Scam Alert Part 1

Scam Alert Part 1

Protection from Scams; Part 1

You’re a sensible woman. Right? Even if you were raised with trust and love, you lock your doors and windows when you leave the house, and when you retire for the evening, right? And you lock your car, and never leave anything of value in the trunk, right? All good. But not all thieves carry a tire iron. For cyber theft, meaning theft of your personal information over the internet, all it takes is a few clicks.

Any digital device– desktop computer, laptop, tablet, phone, a digital camera like a baby cam, your television, RING doorbell, even–wait for it– a “smart” pacemaker — can be hacked, meaning that an online thief can access these devices without your permission or knowledge. Yeah, it’s enough to make even a sensible woman a tad paranoid.

What do these scammers WANT?

Of course, they’re after your money, if you have any. Perhaps you’ve received a mysterious email from a prince informing you that he has several million US dollars needing to be transferred to a US bank. Did you hear of this story, Nigerian Prince? Obviously, scammers come in all shapes, from every corner of the world.

He’s happy to award you a percentage of his inheritance for the favor of handling the transaction for him. All you need to do is share your banking information, and he’ll happily make the deposit.

Riiiiight. This leads us to the second asset scammers are after your personal information, starting with your date of birth and Social Security number. Even if your bank account is flat as a pancake and you have no discernable assets, your DOB and SS are valuable in a place called the Dark Web.

The scammer wants to BE You.

“The Dark Web” sounds like something from the Hobbit or Avatar world, because it kind of is, created by basement-dwelling tech nerds and twitchy gamers all over the world. Adding to the creepy mythic vibe is a thing called “Tor,” which is not the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder but instead, it’s an acronym for “The Onion Router.” The Tor network is a free, open-source software for enabling anonymous communication. 

Originally developed by the US military for security, using Tor makes it almost impossible to trace a user’s location, thanks to multiple layers of encryption that hide scammers within like the layers of an onion. This dark corner of the web is not illegal, and it’s free to download. Cyber scammers have lots of tricks up their sleeves, but Tor is central to many scams. 

The goal of many scams is to obtain your personal information, such as a passport or birth certificate, and sell these items on the Dark Web. 

Purchasing these documents allows someone else to assume your identity. This can be handy if said person is on the run from the law, and wants to pose as someone else: YOU.

Mature black woman at home texting on her cell phone while sitting on the couch - lifestyle concepts

Let’s set the stage. Senior women are especially at risk. Why?

  • Many are not tech-fluent and are intimidated by the internet.
  • Many are alone and even lonely.
  • Many are on a fixed income and worry about money.

Of course, these are generalizations. But this description fits a large percentage of the population accurately enough to make women of retirement age and older frequent targets for cyber scams.

Practice “S.L.A.M.” to Stop Email Scams

Remember and practice the S.L.A.M. method to avoid the next scam:

S for Sender

L for Link

A for Attachment

M for Message

S: If the Sender name looks sketchy, with weird characters, prepare to delete the email since it may contain malware that acts as a virus, spreading and replicating itself through your online content, scavenging useful morsels like your photo, home address, account numbers, passwords, medical records (these are super valuable for filing claims and obtaining Rx), and financial data.

L: If a Link inside the opened email seems strange, don’t click it. Use your mouse to “hover” over the link, and copy it to your browser if you really want to open it. You may be aware that a “key”-shaped icon is used to designate security on a URL or link. Be careful: that key icon needs to appear beside “https//”, not simply beside the URL in order to be legit.

A: for attachment: delete any suspicious attachments. These are often a kind of digital “Trojan horse.” The attachment may be “clickbait,” meaning that it promises a free prize or special offer of some kind, but it actually contains spyware or malware which will foul your data like hungry ants in a sugar bowl.

M: Message. If you don’t know the sender, and the message is filled with cray-flattering compliments, it’s probably a scam. Also be on guard for what are called “puny-code attacks,” meaning that a few characters in a name may be changed so that it almost seems real, or like a simple typographical error. For instance, if you get an email from “Banc of Amerika,” you may not be much of a proofreader, so you open it. The fake name seems enough like the real Bank of America (a common trick used by scammers is to substitute a zero for the letter “o”), so you engage with the email, and soon nasty little “bots” (short for robots) are munching through your entire digital history in search of data to steal and repurpose.

Email is a very common medium for scamming. You can recognize a scam when the area of the email where your name as the email recipient should appear is instead occupied by nonsense gibberish text, and the subject line is equally garbled. Misspelled words and strings of letters that aren’t words at all are a huge red flag.

We’re looking at our personal email right now, and the following messages appear:

From: (sender) To: (you, the recipient) Subject:

{Ruby Smith} 49pue8sxh6sa #30=)FreeSpinshng

R’eeWardsofb jyzm99ptnnb PleeaseVeerify2rl

Package(1)eet sms7thdtwfid Pending Delivery, Your…

OffersLending oor6nuq9iqbu A fast and easy way to…

W’eeLcomeviu cgjine2jnaawv N’ooTificationsign

These are actual examples from our personal email, and they’re good examples of what to look out for. First, “Ruby Smith” is the only sender in the list above that could possibly be an actual human’s name; the rest are Martian-like mumbo-jumbo. All of them, albeit in gibberish, seem to offer something nice. Variations on the words “free,” “reward,” “please verify,” “package,” “pending delivery,” “offer to lend,” “A fast and easy way to…,” “welcome,” and “notification sign” may pique your interest, as if maybe you’ve won something, or a surprise gift is on its way. These are frequent ploys used by scammers, centered around money. Money-oriented scams appeal to human desperation and human greed.

Smishing, Phishing, and Vishing

Notice in the third line, in the “To:” area, the recipient begins with “sms.” This is a dead giveaway that something is wrong with this email. SMS stands for Short Message Service, and it’s part of online advertising. Using SMS to hack someone’s email is called “smishing,” using SMS codes in a text or email to get you to click and open. Welcome to the “scam bake”!  Don’t do it. 

“Smishing” rhymes with “phishing,” which is scam-speak for “fishing,” as in fishing around for valuable personal information on the internet. There’s even a thing called “vishing,” which is “voice-fishing,” where scammers use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to mimic a human voice, possibly the voice of someone you know and trust, like a friend, family member, employer, colleague, or even your pastor.  

Remember the odd spelling of “phishing,” and be on the lookout for similar intentional misspellings in your email feed and elsewhere, like those in the list of examples above.  These are always red flags. Stay tuned for part 2. To be continued…


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