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 Slammin' the Scammers

As a card-carrying curmudgeon, I pride myself in not trusting until I have verified. That includes a lot of the information we have discussed over the years, such as scams that are “phishing” for your confidential information in order to steal your identity.  So it is with no little humiliation that I share the following story with you.

I received a message via email from a friend who travels extensively for both business and pleasure. It seems as if he were in dire need of $2,000 (why he came to me, heaven only knows!). He was in the U.K. and had just been robbed. All of his valuables, including credit cards, were stolen.  He then asked if I could immediately wire him the money to help him get back to the United States. I was extremely worried for my friend until I noticed on his Facebook page that he was, at the very same time, hiking in North Carolina.  It turns out that my friend’s e-mail address book had been hijacked by a virus and the scammer behind it was sending the same e-mail to everyone in it to try to get money. This is known as the "Friend in Distress" scam and, truth be known, I very nearly fell for it.  Before wiring any money to a friend in need, try to contact them by phone to confirm the situation. You could also respond by e-mail with a question that only your friend would be able to answer.

Another devious trick that some fraudsters use to get personal information is to email or call you while pretending to be your bank, credit union or even a government agency. (This is known as phishing.) You might even receive a recorded phone call asking you to call back a number and enter your account details via an automated system. (This is known as smishing.) Before you answer any official looking email or official sounding phone message, remember one thing: your bank or financial institution already has this information and would not be asking you to divulge it again in such a manner. Some solutions: go to the institution’s official Web site and contact them from the numbers you find there or even go directly into your branch with a printout of the letter or email.

If you feel that you have been scammed, time is of the essence. Do not feel too ashamed to contact the fraud department of the institution and/or a loved one. These evil-doers spend much time and effort to dupe us and we need to make sure that any shame we may feel does not play right into their hands.

This year, let’s make sure the only “phishing” that we are involved in happens with a rod and reel during a much deserved vacation.

Gary Barg

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