See something, save something
There is something you can do to save yourself far more money than inflation is taking out of your pocket, that will keep your stress levels lower so you need to use less of the health insurance that is zooming in cost, and will enlist you in the fight against cyber terrorism.
Don’t give your money to a scammer. That’s it.
So-called “digital money movement fraud” is targeting millions more Americans each year. Reported 2021 losses range from the low billions, including the $6.9 billion estimated in March by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, to the tens of billions of dollars calculated by some consumer groups.
Inevitably, these figures would represent only a percentage of successful scams, because getting scammed is not only expensive, it is embarrassing. Many go unreported. The crime is growing faster than inflation, and more younger people have joined the elderly among the exploited.
The financial services industry does not run educational programs in digital safety before allowing a consumer to use their apps to move and spend money. It’s becoming obvious that consumers make assumptions and scammers take advantage of what they don’t know.
What we can all do is to be ready for the online scam when it comes, and shut it down at once. Fortunately, a set of random heroes is helping people to see what’s happening before the money is lost for good. They are not law enforcement; they are workers whose jobs include legitimately moving and providing access to one’s own funds. And they set the example for what a person can also do for themselves.
These are recent, true incidents:
A woman in a nearby state received an email from a scammer who convinced her to digitally withdraw $1,000 from a bank account and wire it to the scammer. Somehow, when she goes to the bank to request what she thinks is going to be a thousand, it comes up as $10,000. The first intervener is the bank employee who declines to make the transaction.
The scammer persists, and tells his target to withdraw the $10,000 in cash and send it, wrapped as directed. “If anyone asks, tell them it’s family photos.”
The UPS driver who comes to the victim’s door to pick up the parcel asks what is in it. “Family photos,” the woman says. Fortunately, she is a terrible liar. Cash, she admits. The driver refuses to accept the parcel and convinces the woman to call a family member and get it reported. Scam fails.
Closer to home, a scammer frightened a person into going to Stop & Shop to purchase gift cards in an amount that turns out to be higher than the store will sell. The clerk, having seen this before, tells the would-be purchaser that it looks like a standard scam to her, and the person should not follow the scammer’s instructions. Scam fails.
If it has not yet happened to you, don’t discount the victims in these stories as unwary or unintelligent. Classic phishing scams start with an attack on a computer that is in use, literally screaming audibly and visually that the user must not turn off the machine. The graphics mimic familiar logos and typefaces. A panicked person sees what looks authentic, does as told -- and the scam is underway.
Instead, train yourself to think like a bank teller, a UPS driver and a customer service clerk. Despite the terrifying online messages and the “helpful” human who offers to step in, you have nothing to lose by saying no. Even a panicky person can pause and consider what is being said. All it takes is a few seconds, a deep breath, and then seeking advice from someone you actually know.
Connecticut’s consumer protection department web page offers tips on recognizing and reporting scams. Think of https://portal.ct.gov/DCP/Common-Elements/Common-Elements/Fraud-and-Scams as a drill to prevent a crime in which you could be the victim.
Digital money transfer scams from accounts and credit cards went up dramatically during the pandemic when people were spending more time online. They are not declining, as consumers have grown more comfortable transferring money through apps.
Never send money, even to yourself, if a stranger tells you to.
You need your money. They want your money. Which will it be?
Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.