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Don’t Be Fooled by Common Internet Scams

May 2019

So my friend “Tom” got an email from his supervisor at work saying, “I need your help.” He emailed back and said he’d be happy to help.

Then came an email saying she was in a meeting and needed him to do a favor: go to Walmart, buy 10 iTunes gift cards at $100 each, take photos of the cards showing the gift codes, and email her the photos.

It seemed reasonable to Tom. She would have been expected to be involved in a meeting at an event that weekend that could have included giving gifts to participants.

So he headed out to Walmart.

The clerk at Walmart said: “I’m sorry, I can’t sell you 10 iTunes gift cards. There’s a scam going around, and too many people are falling for it. I can only sell you two.”

Tom bought those two, and headed home to take photos of them. But he began to get suspicious.

He emailed the photos of the gift cards to his supervisor, but then also emailed her husband just to double check that indeed she was in a meeting and needed this favor. Her husband said, “It’s a scam.” The email address was similar to that of Tom’s supervisor, but was actually the scammer’s.

Fortunately, Walmart was able to cancel those two gift cards, and no money was lost.

Too many people I know are falling for scams. Here’s what to watch out for.

Urgently need money – The scam Tom fell for is in the “urgently need money” category. I sometimes receive emails from friends and colleagues saying they’re stranded in London or someplace and need me to help them out by wiring money. Ignore these please, or at least double check the way Tom did.

Phishing emails – The most common scam may be “phishing” emails: they appear to come from your internet provider or IT department or company that you do business with. Often the ones I receive say that my email account will be disabled unless I click the link and log in.

Never click the link and log in. If it appears to be from my bank or credit card company or other organization I do business with, instead of clicking the link in the email, I always simply open up my web browser and go directly to the website to log in. Sometimes it’s legitimate, other times it’s a scam.

You can also hover your cursor over a link in an email, and the associated URL will be revealed, helping you to see whether it’s legitimate.

This was the scam that led to the infamous hack of the Democratic National Committee email server during the 2016 election.

Dangerous attachments and links – I regularly receive emails with attachments from people I know but don’t expect to be sending me an attachment. Clicking on the attachment could install a virus on your computer. Never click on an attachment unless it’s something you’re expecting from someone you know well.

In one case, I emailed my colleague back and said, “Don, is this really from you?” He replied, “Yes. Please open the attachment.” Still I held off. A week later I contacted him and asked about it. He said, “DO NOT click on that attachment! Someone got into my email.” In this case, it wasn’t phishing – the hacker had actually gotten into his account and replied to my email.

I also regularly receive emails from acquaintances, often from Yahoo addresses, that simply say something like “Click here” and then give a link. It’s a scam.

Bogus virus warning – Two people I know have fallen for this one. You go to a web page and get a message saying your computer has a virus. Call this number to have it removed.

My friend “Ray” got this. He couldn’t close the window, and couldn’t quit his browser. So he called the number, paid them $50, and gave them remote access to his computer. They likely installed malware on his computer.

Don’t call the number. Disconnect your computer from the internet, force your browser or your computer to quit, and then start up again.

Bogus phone call – Ray also fell for the scammer who calls you on the phone and says you have a virus on your computer that’s causing problems on the internet. He gave the scammer remote access to his computer, but during the process realized it was a scam. It took him a couple hours with tech support to clear the malware off his computer the scammer had placed there.

If you get such a call, hang up.

False Flash warning – Some web pages give a message that you need to update the Flash video utility on your computer. Never click the link. Instead, go to Adobe’s website to check if there’s a more recent version to download.

Me? I myself once almost got fooled by a scam. I’ll share that in a future column.

© 2019 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen

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