Column | Beware the scam artists constantly devising new ways to rob the most vulnerable among us | #datingscams | #lovescams | #facebookscams

With all the appalling violence that has been rained down upon us,  I have another issue to add to the list of social ills: scammers. They slither and worm their way into the lives of the most vulnerable, causing irreparable harm.

I am an administrator of a widow and widowers group,  which provides worldwide outreach to those who are bereaved.  Our group, as of late, has become  inundated by duplicitous scammers.

Masters of  deception, it takes a keen eye to weed out their spurious claims.    Stolen photographs of women are used by men posing as woman  to enter the group. Some pose as newly bereaved.  Most grievous is a narrative detailing their  spouse’s death and the pseudo grief they are suffering.    

Members of our group will offer support and that’s where the fishing expedition begins. The charlatans will try to get private telephone numbers with various ploys and tactics. Because bereavement is a lonely business, some widowed folks are bilked out of a sizable amount of money. 

Those who use Facebook or dating sites have been exposed to scam artists.  These individuals will catfish folks with a false identity and trick them  into a romantic relationship.  

I  can spot scam artists immediately on Facebook.  Some are not very bright. They use the same “come-on” and profile.  Posing as military officers, doctors, or pilots, they flatter with “Hi, pretty” or “You have a beautiful smile” or beautiful something or other. 

Surprisingly, some men and women succumb to this cunning verbiage, start an online relationship, and declare them as soul mates.  The scammer will talk the victim into sending money and hit the road—forever.   

Grandparent scams have been around for years and have been successful in swindling unsuspecting  older folks. Scammers call and claim that a grandchild is in jail and in need of  money. This has happened to me.  Luca, my grandson, is four years  old! I reported the incident to the State Attorney General and  was one of thousands of complaints. 

Have you ever gotten a scary pop-up message on your computer?  It’s terribly disconcerting because the screen is frozen. A menacing voice will begin to repeat multiple times: “Virus alert.”  The same voice instructs one to use the number provided for technical support. I have a friend who fell for this.  After much effort on her part, she recovered her money.

Rising costs make those on a fixed income especially vulnerable to lottery scams. Criminals who conduct lottery scams usually contact their victims by phone to congratulate them on a big win.  They may identify themselves as lottery representatives. They inform the “winners” that  there is a sizable fee to collect the prize, however. 

Cons, scams, hoaxes, frauds — whatever you call them — are too numerous to name.  Yet, millions of Americans fall prey to these criminals every year.  The scams specifically target those who are most susceptible. 

Scammers rely on human frailty and the victim’s inclination not to pass up an opportunity to gain love, money, power, or prestige.  The temptation to gain free cash or trips entices the victim to enter into the game.  Scammers pressure the victim to act fast and are  smooth talking,  pleasant and move with boldness to gain trust. 

In a love relationship, men and women think with their hearts and ignore the gnawing feeling in their gut. Humans need others, it’s a fact. Even those who espouse that they don’t need anyone can fall victim. 

When scam artists dangle the prospect of a big reward, victims often fall deeper and deeper into the scam, even with the awareness that something feels off. Con artists do this for a living and given the right circumstances any of us can be a good mark.

We live in an age of technology where almost anything seems easy, available, and possible. Not only are these scammers a danger, but they undermine the purpose of legitimate charitable organizations.  

There are many worthwhile charities like UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and Episcopal Relief and Development , and numerous others that do exceptional work.                                                                          

If in doubt, it takes only a few minutes to check out the organization online. Legitimate charities have an Employer Identification Number and must register annually with the Internal Revenue Service. You can also search the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau.

Trust is a hard commodity to come by these days. If it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true. Remember: There  is an entire industry made up of scam artists whose sole goal is making money off you.  Anybody, even the rich and famous,  can become susceptible to a scam. Think Bernie Madoff. 

For more information about avoiding scams, see “Common Scams and Frauds” on the federal government’s web portal, and “How to Avoid a Scam” from the Federal Trade Commission. 

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