Holiday time: Beware Internet scams

Say “yes” to Santa ringing the bell at the mall and “no” to an email from “heartbroken.” Photo: Internet scams/ AP graphic

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2013 — The season of scamming is here. Holiday time brings out the thieves in surprisingly large numbers, because we are now more generous and less apt to be vigilant. By all means, make loving and generous donations to certifiably worthy causes. But never do so in response to an unsolicited email.

Say “yes” to Santa ringing the bell at the mall and “no” to an email from “heartbroken.”

Doesn’t everyone know a scam when they see it? Apparently not, as we are romantics. Some very sophisticated and official-looking emails are sent out every year around this time, soliciting our support for activities that will, with absolute certainty, avert tragedy and make the world a better place for all creatures great and small.

Some among us are greedy and perhaps not so bright. Others let compassion run ahead of reason. Many indeed want to help others, and some of us even choose to believe that the sender of one of these highly persuasive emails chose us to carry out this very mission.

Such individuals ought to think again about the wisdom of reacting to such solicitations with a purely emotional response. Often, though, they do not, compounding the problem by providing the sender with detailed personal financial information.

You are not alone if you have been scammed. The organization getcybersafe.gc says that 156 million “phishing” emails are sent daily hoping for a positive response.  

“Phishing” is the act of sending an email that falsely claims to be from a legitimate enterprise.  The sender’s goal is to trick you into giving up private information that will be used to steal your identity.

Fraud harms over 25 million people each year. Approximately two-thirds of all scams originate in the United States, obliterating the popular perception that Internet thieves mostly come from other countries.

The research organization EMC Corp. says that worldwide fraud losses were over $1.5 billion in 2012.

Another research group, Ansonalex.com, indicates that men suffer about 25 percent higher financial losses than women. Women over age 50 are statistically the most victimized in what are called “dating” scams.


SEE RELATED: How not to use Craigslist


IS&T Security reveals that one-third of those people scammed first received a fake pitch online.

There are many ways thieves attempt to steal. Three are seen most often.

Making money, dating, and Nigeria are themes most commonly employed by the scammers.

The clear, basic rule to avoid being victimized is to simply NEVER give out your personal information, social security number, bank account number, credit card information, user-ID or password information when requested via an unsolicited email.

“You Can Make Money” scams have several variations. The pyramid version asks you to send money by mail to the first name on the attached list, to then place your name at the bottom of the list. It then directs you to send the email to five more people, assuring you that your name will eventually make it to the top, at which point you’ll receive lots of cash from others doing what you’ve been asked to do. This is fraud, punishable by jail.

Another scam involves “financial representatives” from allegedly other countries telling you they have millions of accounts in the U.S., but that they cannot access U.S. banks for processing. They ask you to hold the money they will send by checks or money orders, and offer you five or ten percent as your fee.

Their money was fake. Yours was not. After you’ve provided them with the financial information they request, you soon find your own money is no longer in your account.

Still another scam involves “Pre-approved” loan deals and “you won” greetings that require you to pay a processing fee. Doesn’t that just seem absurd on its face?

Beware a purchaser of your advertised item (car, boat, coin-collection) who sends you, oops, an overpayment, and requests the item and a refund of the overpayment. You end up sending the refund, costing you that amount and your item, and you guessed it… the payment sent to you was no good.

Identity theft is the most lucrative crime in the world. The return is greater than selling illegal drugs.

In real life, legitimate organizations like the FBI, Pay-Pal, Citibank, or E-Bay do not send emails asking for confirmation of your identity. Rather, the sender is an identity thief spoofing the look and feel of one of these or similar sites, trying to get some bit of information about you that can be coupled with other bits you probably have put out publicly (on your Facebook account, for example).

With a few bits of correct information about you and/or your accounts, an identity thief can steal tax refunds, buy a house in your name in another state, commit crimes in your name, pose as you at a job and collect wages (and then not pay taxes), and much more.

Similar to money scams and identity theft, dating scams also look to play on emotion. After numerous encounters online with a presumed soul-mate, including equally numerous and apparently sincere promises of unending love and “soul-mate” references, suddenly an emergency strikes the life of that Internet significant other.

“I can’t come next week as promised to meet you; my heart is breaking; my dear aunt has been hospitalized and I am her only relative; if you can wire me a bazillion dollars to help her get through this life or death situation, when I come to visit I will repay you from the Honduras lottery ticket I have yet to cash in.”

Case in point. The following is the text of an email the author received two days ago. Notice the numerous errors that render its authenticity questionable:

Hello,

My name is Mary elvis Zadi.I am a female.
I was impressed when i saw your profile today at ( www.facebook.com) and i

will like to establish a long lasting relationship with you

Thanks waiting to hear from you soon.

Sister Mary.

Isn’t it amazing how scammers always have the worst luck imaginable? They get into accidents, they are arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized. Their parents and siblings are dead or will be deceased shortly. 

Astonishingly, their extraordinary misfortune occurs on the way to the airport to catch a flight to meet you.

Scammers rely on anticipation. Once the excitement about your first meeting is near, something occurs to prevent the scammer from making the trip. Scammers rely on the excitement about the anticipated meeting as an extra incentive to send money. Then another situation occurs, requiring more money.

Nigerian scams are legend in their absurdity and preposterousness. Trust, simply, that no legitimate Nigerian official or businessperson has selected you to receive money, profit from a deal, help an impoverished person or save their country or business from Obamacare or global warming.

Frantic messages like these are simply designed to draw you deeper into the scam by tugging at your emotions. You will eventually be asked for advance fees to allow the deal to proceed. You will become a victim of identity theft. 

Keep in mind: donations to legitimate organizations and charitiescan be made in January, February, or year-round. All are greatly appreciated and the oldest and most reliable such organizations also retain the least percentage of each doner dollar for administrative expenses.

Giving yourself time to research and reflect on charitable requests will give you time to thoroughly check out any solicitation you receive now that you just “have” to act upon now.

Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website. Others can obtain it on Amazon.

 


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Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

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