By Michael Hinman
People have called him many things — kind, loving, helpful, funny. I’ve heard him described as meticulous. But to me and my siblings, he’s simply Dad.
This year my father turns 89. He still drives. He still goes to church, where he displays his musical talents on the organ, which he taught himself to play.
He lives just blocks from my stepmother, who is in an assisted-living facility with severe dementia. He spends as much time there as he can.
My dad loves his wife, his family, his spiritual home, and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don’t think anyone was more excited about Tom Brady making the move from Boston.
But when I think about my dad, more often than not, my smile turns to tears. Not about anything he did — he was and still is a great man — but because of what someone did to him.
My dad was meticulous as he divided a large stack of cash into separate envelopes. His hands shook with fear as he packed each envelope carefully into a box to send off to who knows where. This was $20,000 — money my father, a retired railroad welder, didn’t even have. It came from a loan, one he continues to make payments on today.
The worst part was that my dad knew he was being scammed. He knew that if he told me or any of my siblings, we would stop him. We would help him. But the scammers on the other end of that phone scared him so much that fear overcame reason and logic.
I’ve recently discovered a YouTube channel called Scammer Payback. It’s led by a cybersecurity expert known only as “Pierogi,” who targets the scammers who have their sights on our parents, our grandparents, our sisters and brothers — really anyone we love.
Pierogi ties the scammers up on the phone for hours. He hacks into their computers and steals their files, turning all of what he unearths over to the authorities. He has identified the leading scam operations overseas, and pushed for police to arrest them. And he’s personally called people targeted by scammers — many of whom have been victimized for years — to help them break free.
Scams are nothing new, but the scope of such fraud and theft today is unprecedented. The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network reported 4.8 million complaints of consumer fraud and identity theft in 2020 — up 45 percent from the year before.
Nearly half of all Americans experienced financial identity theft in 2020, according to the Aite-Novarica Group. Nearly half. That cost all of us more than $700 billion at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent weeks, AARP Long Island and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service have hosted a series of webinars with the RichnerLive arm of Herald Community Newspapers to explore all kinds of fraud —identity theft, elder fraud and, this week, romance scams. I’ve been honored to moderate these panels, which have included expert advice from AARP New York’s Long Island associate state director, Bernard Macias, as well as USPIS experts like Donna Harris, Michael Del Giudice and Joseph Marcus.
We’ve learned so much. If someone calls you and asks you to send money — for any reason — be skeptical. If they want to get on your computer, say no. If they ask you to use gift cards, or tell you that you must provide them with sensitive personal information, hang up.
Most important, be careful what you share. Facebook is a great way to connect to those we love, but it’s also a great way for scammers to collect a ton of personal information about you — information they can weaponize in an effort to empty your bank account.
Be careful about how you dispose of papers containing sensitive details about you. Scammers will dig through your garbage, and they will find exactly what they need to take what rightfully belongs to you.
Join us for our final installment in the Fighting Against Fraud series on Thursday, April 28, at noon. You don’t even have to leave your living room — we’ll come right to your computer. Just register at LIHerald.com/romance.
And then protect yourself by shredding sensitive documents. If you don’t have a shredder, we’ll do it for you. Bring those documents to our offices, at 2 Endo Blvd. in Garden City, this Saturday, April 30, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and we’ll shred them. Just register in advance, at www.LIHerald.com/shred.
My dad will never see that $20,000 again. So many more like him have lost money that is now counted in the billions. But it doesn’t have to continue. We can fight scammers by being vigilant, and by educating ourselves, so we — and those we love — are never victimized again.
Michael Hinman is the executive editor of the Herald Community Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.