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Tim Burke: Protecting yourself against scams and cybercrime

Scams and cybercrimes are the bank robberies and purse snatching crimes of our modern era. Anonymous criminals, frequently located in other countries, are targeting anyone with a cellphone or internet access.

Contrary to widely-held beliefs, millennials, rather than seniors, are most likely to have been scammed. Seniors, on the other hand, are more likely to lose more money.

People 80 or older reported a median loss of $2,700 per scam. Scams are increasing in number because they’re profitable and it’s very difficult for law enforcement to find and prosecute cybercriminals.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that the top scams affecting seniors are tech support scams, business imposters, romance scams, imposters posing as family or friends, money offers, and imposters pretending to be government representatives for the Social Security Administration or the IRS.

The fake government employee callers pretend they’re IRS agents demanding back taxes, or say your Social Security number has been suspended, or tell you the Department of Health and Human Services just made you eligible for some medical device.

While many seniors have become savvier about fraudulent emails and will avoid clicking on suspicious emails, they can fall victim to what is called “click-through” scams on the Internet. Scammers are using social media sites like Facebook to victimize seniors. That perfectly legitimate-looking ad you just saw might redirect you to a site that infects your computer with a virus.

Another way that criminals are stealing from consumers is through fake shopping sites. Facebook, through its software, can track what you have been shopping for on the internet and will start showing ads on your Facebook page that match items you have looked at.

I recently did an online search for a portable AC unit. The best price I could find while shopping on the Internet for a certain model was $299. An ad popped up on Facebook with the exact same unit for $99.

By doing an Internet search on the company that was selling the unit so cheaply I was able to find info that it was a scam shopping site. Facebook does not police these sites very well so be cautious!

In 2019, some reports predict that half of all phone calls will be fraudulent. Roughly 2.8 billion of them were placed in January of 2018, according to YouMail’s robocall index; one year later, that number rose to 5.1 billion during the same month span in 2019.

There are several techniques scammers use to get people to pick up the phone, but the most popular method is known as “neighborhood spoofing,” which happens when a scammer disguises their phone number and displays it as a local number on a user’s caller ID.

For example, a scammer may spoof their phone number to match the area code and 3-digit prefix of the person they are targeting and ultimately increase the likelihood of someone answering. They also will use a fake name that is displayed on the caller ID.

Not only is this tactic harmful toward the person being called, the owner of the phone number used to make the call often is subjected to return calls from the recipient of the scam call.

These return calls come as a surprise since the owner of the number used to make the scam call is not aware a call was ever placed from their number, leading to frustration and confusion among all parties.

Third-party call blocking apps are largely ineffective when it comes to detecting spoof calls since they can only blacklist against known scam numbers, not legitimate numbers that are momentarily hijacked by scammers. The good news is that legally wireless carriers cannot ignore the issue any longer.

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission passed a provision that would force network operators to implement SHAKEN/STIR, the new industry standard for verifying the source of phone calls. Carriers have until 2020 to adopt SHAKEN/STIR.

If you don’t recognize the number no matter how legitimate it may appear don’t answer the call. Let it go to voicemail. You can always call back if it’s legit.

Check with your cell carrier and make sure you have the carrier’s spam call prevention service activated on your phone.

To further protect yourself, do not open emails that appear suspicious. Do not click on ads on social media sites. When shopping, if it’s a too-good-to-be-true deal, it’s probably fake. If your computer gets hacked, turn it off immediately and take it to a PC repair shop to be fixed. Never ever send money by gift cards or Western Union to someone you don’t personally know. If you are unsure, ask someone you trust.

There are several good organizations such as the Better Business Bureau that have scam trackers that can help you determine if something is legitimate or a scam. Scams and scammers are not going away anytime soon so you must be vigilant in protecting yourself against cybercrime.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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