Technology Run Amok?

Donna Lane
Issue Date: 
May, 2019
Article Body: 

Do you hate answering your phone these days? If you answered yes, you are not alone. As technology continues to advance, the number of calls we receive daily that are scams or solicitations continue to increase.
According to Norwood Deputy Chief of Police Peter F. Kelly, Jr., there are a number of scams we need to be aware of.
The IRS scam has been going on for several years, but there are still people who fall prey to it. The caller identifies himself as working for the IRS and threatens deportation, arrest or other highly unpleasant consequences if you don’t pay back taxes. They used to ask for Visa or MasterCard gift cards, but more recently have insisted the amount be paid by a MoneyGram.
The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that there has been a dramatic drop in the number of consumer reports about IRS impostor scams this year.
The bad news is that scammers have found a new way to try to exploit us. The caller tells you that your Social Security number is connected to a crime and your bank account will be frozen or seized. They then direct people to “protect” their funds by withdrawing the money in their bank accounts and putting it on gift cards. The scammers then ask for the gift card PIN numbers for “safekeeping.” All a scammer needs is the PIN number of this gift card to abscond with your hard-earned dollars.
Deputy Chief Kelly said that local banks are key to thwarting this type of scam. Since they know their customers and can determine if there is unusual account activity, they can often speak with a customer to help determine if they are being subjected to a fraudulent request.
The spammers also try to get people to reveal their Social Security numbers by falsely claiming they are suspended. The fact is, the Social Security Administration will not suspend your Social Security number, nor will it direct you to withdraw money from your bank account. Furthermore, government agencies and banks will send you a formal letter relating to a problem or a change in your status. They do not call unless it is a follow-up to the notification.
And then there are the Microsoft scams. The first one I encountered was a call claiming that my computer had been infected with a virus. Since I use a Mac, I knew it was a scam and hung up. But I decided to call Microsoft to ask if they were aware of the scam. They were, and they wanted to make sure I understood that Microsoft does not send unsolicited messages nor does it monitor computers using its software. Basically, the scammer wants you to give him remote access to your computer. If you give him access, the scammer can easily dig into your system and pull out all of your financial and personal information. Further, they can upload malware that can cripple your system.
In another scam, the caller said my product key for Windows was about to expire and I needed them to renew it through a remote desktop application. Again, they wanted access to my computer.
Lately I’ve been receiving a new message. It’s a robocall saying “Technical support doesn’t exist anymore so we are refunding you 800 dollars U.S. for Microsoft lifetime technical support after verifying you as our loyal call us to get your 800 dollars U.S. back at 888-370-9232. ... Thank you! Regards! [Really???] Microsoft refund department.” As part of the message, the recording says that she hopes I remember that I actually entered into a lifetime contract with Microsoft. The key words in this scenario is that they want verification of you as a customer – information you do not want to share with them.
Eversource has been warning customers about calls from scammers claiming to be from Eversource and threatening to shut the power off unless they get an immediate payment using an untraceable prepaid debit card. Remember, our electricity is provided by Norwood Electric, not Eversource. Also, Eversource would never ask you to purchase prepaid cards. Customers who are scheduled for disconnection due to nonpayment receive written notice that includes the actions they can make to maintain service. In addition to scams threatening to disconnect electric or natural gas service, Eversource has also received reports of scams attempting to gather sensitive information about potential candidates.
Perhaps the most cruel scams being perpetrated are those purporting to involve a loved one. Here’s one of many scenarios. Your grandson calls; voice is hardly recognizable because the caller is nearly whispering. He’s been in an accident, is in jail and needs bail money. He doesn’t want Mom or Dad to know so could you please wire me the money? Don’t do it!
My personal favorite is from Card Member Services who, several times a week, want to lower my credit card interest rate because I’m a great customer. So, where’s that bridge you want to sell me?
Deputy Chief Kelly offers some words of advice. If an offer seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam! In today’s environment, we must be vigilant. If a caller is looking for verification of your personal data (name, address, date of birth, Social Security number) or demanding payment with easily transferrable means of payment (e.g., iTunes and Visa gift cards, reloadable Green Dots, etc.), hang up!
That’s right, don’t engage with the caller. Just hang up!
“These people are predators,” Kelly said. “Don’t feel like you are being disrespectful; they are disrespecting you.”
According to Kelly, said scammers have three things going for them: ability, desire and opportunity.
“You can’t do anything about their ability or desire, but you can take away their opportunity,” Kelly said.
He also encourages residents to stay connected to the police department via Facebook and Twitter to learn of any new scams that have been identified.
Donna Lane is a Norwood-based writer, lecturer and designer. You can reach her at [email protected].