Our front-page story concerning the lockdown of the Delta schools tells the story of what can happen if someone becomes the victim of an online scam – or any type of scam for that matter. Scams are nothing new. The key to fighting them is understanding them and not believing them. And just the week before we reported on charges that were filed, and if they turn out to be accurate, indicate another scam here locally.
The extent of local scam attempts and success is greater than the two above incidents. Troopers say that in the past year over somewhere near $1.5 million has been reported as loss by local residents as a result of scams. Unfortunately, little can be done to prosecute these perpetrators or recover the lost money.
The local victims have fallen prey to those seeking assistance on scams where people have attempted to provide assistance in situations they thought were legitimate, including helping family members – or someone pretending to be a family member – with an unfortunate situation. Troopers advise you to make sure you contact directly, voice verify, and talk to other family members before sending money to someone claiming to be a family member.
If your nephew needs assistance and no other family member is aware of the situation, it is most likely a scam. Especially that nephew you haven’t heard from in five years.
The history of swindling and deceit stretches far beyond the internet era. Charismatic individuals have long employed their cunning and manipulative skills to exploit unsuspecting victims.
Examples from the past include snake oil salesmen who peddled "miracle cures" with false health claims, the notorious Charles Ponzi, who initiated the scheme promising incredible returns, and confidence tricksters who used psychological manipulation to gain victims' trust. Pyramid schemes, mail fraud, impersonation, and others are just a few of the different types of schemes dreamed up to perpetrate a scam.
Extensive news coverage and even popular culture references such as the popular movie of its time, “The Flim-Flam Man” based upon the book by Guy Owen, “The Ballad of the Flim-Flam Man” have not persuaded many to recognizing and avoid swindlers and their practices. Scam artists rely on the innocence of others to successfully complete their scams.
In our increasingly interconnected world, the rapid growth of the internet has brought forth not only remarkable opportunities but also an alarming rise in online scams. Those who have a significant presence on the internet are constant targets for scams.
In preparation of writing this article, the author accepted the advances of what appeared to be a scam artist. Several things were key in recognizing the fact that it was a scam. The initial contact was through Facebook and was completely random. The individual then began a conversation which led to statements about the precarious situation they were in.
After two to three months – which seemed to be an unusually long time for a scam artist to pursue a victim without any advancement of the scam – came the statement that a relative was traveling overseas to receive money as part of some type of monetary settlement.
Although this person had previously indicated the relative, who lived with them, had no money, they were able to basically jump overseas at a moment’s notice. Of course, once they got there, there was not money to be gained.
Paying attention to the statements made by the perpetrator, it was easy to discern that they were not in Arizona as they had stated. Like asking the individual what they were doing, and they would say they were out enjoying the sun when it was midnight here in Alaska, and thus dark in Arizona. Or asking them how the weather was and looking at the weather utilizing online services to see that the weather was nothing like what they were describing.
Although cunning and manipulative, they clearly weren’t cunning enough to make sure they only answered questions with accurate statements.
Fraudulent schemes like this are designed to deceive unsuspecting individuals and exploit their personal and financial information for illicit gains.
The origins of online scams can be traced back to the early days of the internet when cybercriminals quickly realized the vast potential for exploiting unsuspecting users. As the internet evolved and technology advanced, so did the sophistication of scams.
Some of the early online scams are still around today in varying forms. One of the most popular online scams was the Nigerian scam, named because the people that promoted it were generally from Nigeria, as the perpetrator from Friday’s event appeared to be.
In that scam, which is generally an advanced fee scam, someone will email you with a plan asking for assistance with transferring a large amount of money. The scam has changed since its introduction in the 1990s, but the core component has remained the same.
One of the keys to that scam, and many others according to Economist Steven Levitt and Journalist Stephen Dubner, co-authors of the book “Freakonomics,” is the ability to easily send email to thousands of people at a time. Levitt and Deubner say that eventually the scammer will get someone to respond, and they then begin to concentrate their work on that individual. If 1,000 emails results in 20 responses, and follow-up filters it down to five, then they can begin the next stage of the scam to befriend the individual.
One of the unique aspects of the Nigerian scam, according to Levitt and Deubner, is the fact that the scammers put into the email that they are from Nigeria, even though that indicates to the educated recipient of the email it is likely a scam. They say the scammers are seeking the unsuspecting, and quickly narrowing down the most likely potential victims to those that aren’t aware of the scam’s history is the first step.
Today, online scams originate from various sources, including cybercrime syndicates, individual scammers, and even state-sponsored actors. These perpetrators continuously adapt their methods to exploit new technologies and platforms, making it a constant challenge to combat their activities effectively.
While online scams can target anyone, certain individuals are more susceptible due to various factors. Among the most vulnerable are elderly individuals who may lack familiarity with technology and exhibit greater trust in others. Financially strained individuals, seeking quick relief from economic hardships, become prime targets for scams promising immediate financial gains or lucrative job opportunities. Naïve and trusting individuals, who are less skeptical and lacking awareness about online threats, are also at higher risk. Additionally, scammers target those who exhibit impulsive behavior or greed, enticing them with promises of extraordinary returns on investments or lottery winnings.
Online scammers employ a wide range of techniques to deceive their victims, capitalizing on human psychology and exploiting trust. The following are some prevalent strategies employed by scammers:
Phishing: Scammers send fraudulent emails or create fake websites that imitate legitimate organizations to trick users into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card details.
Advance Fee Fraud: This type of scam involves enticing victims with the promise of a large sum of money or an attractive offer, but first requiring them to pay an upfront fee or provide personal information.
Romance Scams: Scammers exploit emotions and build false relationships with victims on online dating platforms, eventually requesting money for emergencies or travel expenses.
Tech Support Scams: Scammers pose as technical support personnel, contacting victims with alarming messages about computer viruses or security issues. They then offer assistance for a fee, gaining access to sensitive data or installing malicious software.
Online Auction and Purchase Fraud: Scammers create fake listings on online marketplaces, enticing users to pay for products or services that they never receive.
Investment and Ponzi Schemes: Scammers promise high returns on investments, attracting victims to invest in nonexistent or fraudulent ventures. They use funds from new investors to pay returns to earlier investors, creating a false sense of legitimacy.
As technology continues to advance, online scams remain a significant threat to individuals and society as a whole. By studying the historical context of swindlers and understanding the evolution of scams, we can better recognize and protect ourselves from the manipulative techniques used by modern-day fraudsters. Vigilance, skepticism, and awareness of the methods employed by swindlers across time can help individuals safeguard their finances, personal information, and emotional well-being in an increasingly interconnected world.
And if you don’t believe scams are out there, “I can see Russia from my house,” and “I've got some ocean front property in Arizona. If you'll buy that, I'll throw the Golden Gate in free.” Please get back to me.