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Share knowledge to help prevent scams

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Five years ago this week, I received an email so completely outlandish that I had to share it with friends.

The email, which started off with the very promising line, “Hi, victim,” did not disappoint in the least as it went on to threaten the unleashing of malware that had been installed on my computer when I had supposedly visited an unsavory website. The blackmailer demanded 400 euros in bitcoin to keep my indiscretion quiet. At first the person said I only had 30 hours from the time the email was opened to comply with this request, but a few lines later I was very generously offered 48 hours if I only asked.

I remember laughing uproariously when I read it the first time and couldn’t resist sharing it on Facebook with friends. The grammar was so poor and the concept so ill-conceived that I thought, “who on earth do they expect to fall for this?”

And in some ways, for someone who spots the signs in a bogus email or someone calling up with some new take on an old scam, it can feel laughable. One of my favorite columns in the last eight years working for the Powhatan Today is still the one I wrote about a former Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office employee enjoying an evening with loved ones and a few drinks while she strung along someone trying to pull the grandparents scam on her.

But as laughable as these scams may seem sometimes, they persist because they work at least part of the time. And when they work, lives can be impacted in ways we can’t imagine as vulnerable people – often senior citizens – are scammed. It’s not funny in the least when you hear those stories.

AARP Virginia sends out fraud alerts that we will endeavor to share more often with our readers as a way to bring awareness and hopefully prevent our local residents from being taken in by a fraudster. The sheriff’s office also shares when they are seeing an uptick in numbers on a particular scam.

One alert sent out last week by AARP talked about how we are bombarded with scams and frauds by criminals on email, over the phone, text and online, but warned people are “particularly susceptible on social media.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 25% of successful scams in 2021 originated on a social media platform. In 2017, consumers lost $42 million to social media scams. Last year that total was $770 million – an 18-fold increase. AARP Virginia offered three warning signs of social media scams:

n Friend requests from people you don’t know. Think of your parents when surfing the web and “don’t talk to strangers.”

n Celebrities who want to connect with you. Scammers clone celebrity profiles and send personal messages offering investment opportunities or a chance to meet in person. This is a very successful criminal tactic so just remember, celebrities don’t really want to be your online friend.

n Anyone offering investment opportunities. Cryptocurrency scams are exploding, and they typically start when an online “friend” offers up an investment opportunity. Anytime someone you met online says “investment” or “crypto” it’s time to walk away.

It’s easy to scoff at the warnings as obvious and question who in this day and age could fall for some of the scams you see. But the truth is, given the right circumstances, we probably all have vulnerabilities that could be exploited to someone else’s advantage. That’s why we need to be vigilant, stay informed about current scams and try to look out for those family, friends or neighbors who might be especially vulnerable to a scammer.

If you or someone you know is the victim or attempted victim of a scam, report it to the Powhatan County Sheriff’s Office at 804-598-5656.

Visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork for resources such as the AARP’s Fraud Resource Center or the AARP Fraud Watch Network Scam-Tracking Map, where you can see what scams have actually been reported in the area. You can also call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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