Randi Kreiss

High season for online hucksters and frauds


Have you ever fallen for a scam? In the old days, for which we can only feel nostalgia, there was the kind of sweet three-card Monte hustle on the streets of New York, the infamous sales of Florida swampland, and penny-stock offerings guaranteed to land a windfall. Sometimes, back in the day, there was the more sophisticated scam telephone call from a relative you might not remember who loved your mother, remembers her name and, by the way, desperately needs money wired immediately for emergency surgery.
Oh, it does go on and on. Getting caught in the web of fraud sometimes speaks to our own greed. We want to make a lot of money without working for it, and we are willing to be fooled into thinking it can happen. Some of us are also remarkably gullible. We have “sucker” written large on our backs, and there are folks out there ready to take us up on it.
There have been the notorious Ponzis and Madoffs and the likes of Anna Sorokin, who posed as an heiress to dupe rich friends, and, of course, legends like Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos founder, who wanted to be the next Steve Jobs but instead faces sentencing in September on wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Grifting has always been a part of the American landscape. Sometimes a certain romance has been associated with big-time fraudsters, a grudging nod to their ability to run a con. Victims rarely appreciate this side of the crime. People in our own communities suffered life-changing losses from Bernie Madoff’s crimes.
What appalls me is the epidemic of cybercrime. Every single day, even multiple times a day, we receive emails and texts that try to trick us into revealing vital information that can then be used to steal identities, get into bank accounts, and otherwise wreak havoc with our financial stability. It is organized, and it is sophisticated. Despite all of our double-verification routines and firewalls, the bad guys keep knocking at the door.

Among my various tics and tocks, I never included paranoia, but I admit, lately I am suspicious of nearly everything that comes my way online. There’s a random text from someone I know but haven’t spoken to in a few years. “How about getting in touch?” it says. It could be a genuine text, but probably not.
AOL writes to me nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, saying it will shut down my account by a certain date if I don’t write back immediately with various information the company needs. Bushwa! I get calls from insurance “specialists” and Medicare “advisers” and premier bank card alerts and Yahoo yahoos, and someone in the U.K. who wants to send me $20,000, and someone else who writes, “Confirmation needed immediately,” and texts from my real credit card company, saying there’s a hold on my card, except there isn’t, and I have to call the company to find out that the text didn’t come from them.
I think it affects your sense of safety in the world to always be swatting away fraud attacks.
We’ve come to accept fake news and alternative facts, but the online scamming feels personal. Don’t we all want to trust our community? Apparently, the kinder, gentler time of the unlocked back door has passed. Hypervigilance is our default mode.
The lowest of the low have come out since Covid. According to Phishing.org, people send emails pretending to be representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offering money for the funerals of family members who died in the pandemic. There’s one hitch: You must give them personal information or send them money to get the money. It’s a scam. There’s a real FEMA funeral program, but that one offers money without asking for any.
After every national tragedy, after mass shootings, hurricanes and floods, there’s always a blossoming of fraud across the land. People seize the opportunity to profit on the grief and loss of others.
According to www.Phishing.org, be suspicious if:
• You’ve “won the lottery.”
• You recognize the sender, but it’s someone you don’t talk to.
• A message sounds scary or tells you to “act now.”
• A message contains unexpected or unusual attachments. They may contain malware, ransomware or another online threat.
The grifters and fraudsters are often smart enough to make money the old-fashioned way, but that’s not how they roll. Their payoff is the free ride, getting over on the “mark.”
Be careful out there, my friends.

Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.