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Rich Nigerian princes? Scams are way past that (Editorial)

Press & Journal - 17-08-11
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Online scammers

Scams are hardly new. From Ponzi schemes to fake charities to selling the Brooklyn Bridge to unsuspecting visitors to New York, people have been bilked for centuries.

As technology improves, so have the scammers.

The days of receiving an email from a Nigerian prince who is sitting on a fortune are long since gone. Scams are high-tech.

It’s happening locally, and sometimes they are successful. Just look at the recent editions of the Press & Journal.

  • Lower Swatara police said a concerned grandmother fell victim to a plea to send money to pay for an attorney to defend her grandson in ultimately what was a false story. Her “grandson” called her and told her he had been in a car accident while in upstate New York and he needed her help. Reportedly the victim sent $860 in an electronic transfer via two Walmart stores. Police told the victim that there was little they could do in the case.
  • Someone apparently hacked the computer of a Lower Swatara Township man, stole compromising photographs, then threatened to post them on the resident’s Facebook page unless he paid $1,000. Police said the man sent $500 via Western Union and another $500 via Moneygram to an address in Tondo, a district of Manila in the Philippines. The scammer appeared to have gained access when the resident clicked on a link in a phishing email. This installed a Trojan horse that allowed his hard drive to be copied. Phishing is when a scammer uses fraudulent emails or texts, or copycat websites to get you to share valuable personal information. A Trojan horse is a program designed to secretly breach the security of a computer.
  • Middletown police on Aug. 1 were alerted of a scam that police say has become common. The caller told police that he had been contacted by someone offering him a $6,000 check. The man was told to deposit the check in his own bank account, and then to write another check on his own account to provide a portion of the money back to the caller in return. In most cases, there are no funds to back up the check that the victim is asked to deposit.
  • A Lower Swatara Township resident told police an attempt was made to defraud him out of more than $7,000 on allegations he has not paid his federal taxes. The resident received a telephone call at noon March 15 from a person identifying herself as Sarah Morris of the IRS stating the resident owed $7,521 for unpaid taxes from 2011 to 2015. The caller asked the resident how he would like to move forward to pay the taxes. Police reported the township resident said he would not move forward with any payment after which he hung up on the caller.

We could go on and on.

Many involve technology. Many involve taking advantage of someone who doesn’t know better (a grandma) or doesn’t want to be embarrassed (blackmail by taking personal information).

The price we pay for the wonders of the Internet and email is that our personal information is more available than ever. Thieves don’t have to enter a locked office to get data. They just have to be able to nimbly access your computer.

They won’t stop, because they work. The perpetrators are hard to find, any money lost likely will never be recovered, and even if the scammer is found, prosecution is difficult.

“There are so many computer scams out there that grow and evolve daily,” Frank Williamson, who was then the Lower Swatara Township manager and acting public safety director, told the Press & Journal for a story about the man scammed over the personal pictures.

We can’t give you a tip for every possible scam. But make sure you have the latest anti-virus software. Make sure you know the source of emails before opening them or a link embedded in them. Check the email address of the sender.

“Many times the email address will be spoofed to look like it is from someone you know,” Williamson said.

Be suspicious of money being deposited into your account, and someone then requesting that you purchase other items or withdraw a portion of the money.

Make sure that a “business” calling you with problems with your account or service is legit.

Don’t try to get rich quick. That is a basic of avoiding scams that hasn’t changed for centuries.

And don’t be afraid to contact authorities. While that scam might only take you for a couple of hundred dollars, who wants to go through life knowing they fell for it?

Tags: Nigerian, prince, scam, Ponzi schemes, grandson scam, phishing, check scam

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