Peril, however, may befall some of us during the three-day holiday because it presents ideal opportunities for cyber criminals to scam us of our hard-earned money by infecting our computers with malware in order to steal our identities, warns Tim Johnston who heads the Northern Nevada office of the Better Business Bureau.
July 4 is an especially profitable time for the scammers because they also use social media, email, text messaging and the telephone to persuade us to donate money to sham military, veterans and patriotic organizations. We also must not fall for deceptive holiday sales that “offer incredible deals” which “sound too good to be true. They are, in fact, too good to be true,” says Johnston, who adds, “We must do business only with trusted sources, using secure payment methods for our purchases and steering clear of ‘time is running out’ impulse shopping scams that hawk monetary gifts for veterans and their families,” according to the BBB. The BBB also cautions against scammers’ “phishing” or fishing for victims and luring these Internet users to fake websites. This is accomplished with email messages that appear to be from legitimate organizations with the purpose of convincing us to divulge passwords, financial or other personal information or to introduce a virus to our computers and the Internet network.
Do not respond to unsolicited email messages offering services, assistance or requesting personal information. Also do not click on any links, photos or videos these messages may contain as they have a high potential to install viruses and malware on your computer systems The same cautions also apply to unsolicited Facebook and other social networking message, ads, videos and links, warns the BBB. “Phishing messages and fraudulent social media posts that ask us to donate to fake, non-existent patriotic organizations tug at our heartstrings and tempt us to “impulse click” on the untrustworthy sources. Contribute only to charitable organizations that have been approved by the BBB, and pay only with a credit card, not with a debit card, says the BBB.
Potential victims of scammers will, in many cases, fall prey to “Fireworks Scams” which are operated out of temporary roadside stands by hucksters who ask fireworks purchasers to pay by credit card. Often, it turns out that thousands of dollars have been charged by the scammers on your card. In a related scam, the “Admission Ticket Scam,” victims purchase tickets to Independence Day shows, such as fireworks celebrations. The tickets are fake and sold by scammers. Be cautious when doing business with fireworks and admission ticket sellers. They could be stealing your money and vanish quickly when the holiday ends. Scam websites run by cyber crooks who present themselves as representing patriotic, military and veterans groups often seek donations on Internet sites, and frequently offer to send donors American flags or gifts. The flags and gifts, of course, never arrive in your mailbox and the crook, who gladly accepted your gift of money to what he described as a “wonderful, patriotic gift” to an active duty soldier or military veteran, has long ago fled the scene and may be using the funds generously given to his cause to help pay for a new car or to romance his girlfriend with a trip to Hawaii.
Speaking of “romance,” the BBB has designated a new scam it calls the “Romance Scam” because of its growing popularity. According to the Federal Trade Commission, people lost $547 million to romance scams in 2021, which is up 80 percent compared to 2020 and six times higher than in 2017.
Intrigued by the romance scam’s massive upward growth, I asked the BBB to send me an example of one of the scams, which it did. It’s about a woman I have named “Mary” in order to protect her real identity. Mary, seeking romance, joined an online dating group and soon was corresponding with a fellow I have named “Joe.” Emails, text messages, handwritten letters and phone calls between the pair began to heat up the Internet and telephone lines, and it wasn’t long before Joe professed his love to Mary. Joe, who said he lived in Europe, told Mary he wanted to meet her and “travel the world with her,” according to the statement she gave to the BBB Tracker which records testimonies from people who say they have been cheated by cyber criminals.
But, Joe also told her, he was currently short of cash and suggested that because he was “planning for our future,” she should invest her money with “Tom,” a man he knew who was a whiz at investing large sums of money which eventually grow in size to reap massive profits. Mary, who apparently was richer than Joe, sent him $90,000 in several increments that he said he turned over to Tom who invested the money in a “high income investment plan” which he told her “would soon double in size.” Well, I’m sure the readers of this column will have no difficulty figuring out the end of this saga. Mary’s $90,000 evaporated into thin air as did Joe, his website and friend Tom. Mary wrote the BBB’s Scam Tracker, “I was scammed, betrayed and humiliated, and the only thing to do was to move forward and take measures to protect myself.”
Mary recently wrote to the BBB that she missed Joe, and following a lengthy search, she located Joe on a new website he has set up. She didn’t say if they still love each other.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard.