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Issue #869: March 17-23, 2024

My question queue is running on fumes again lately, so it’s dealer’s choice this week.  If you’re sitting on an issue and not getting the most out of your tech, what are you waiting for?  Hit the column’s website and click the link that says “Submit a Question.”  It’s free and easy, and I want to hear from you! 

Meanwhile, I’ve chosen to do this week’s column about that pernicious bane of modern society: scams.  One would think that as much as scams are talked about, as much as they’re in the news, and all the information that’s available on them, that people would wise up and scammers would just give up and go find some honest work.  The fact that they don’t is proof that they are still succeeding at least sometimes.  After all, they can fail hundreds of times in a row, then succeed once, and it only takes that one big score to make it worthwhile.  My goal in this column is to make sure you, my dear reader geeks, are not among those still falling for these scams, because the first line of defense against the scum that are scammers is knowledge.

Although scammy behavior is more common nowadays, scams have been around since before the advent of personal computers and the Internet.  Scammers tend to prey on the easily-fooled, often the elderly.  There’s an old scam in which you receive a phone call, and a scared-sounding voice on the other end opens with “Grampa?  It’s me.”  The caller goes on to tell that they are in jail (“Please don’t tell Mom!”) and that they need bail money.  This works because many elderly people have grandkids, but many don’t talk to them often enough to recognize their voice in a crisis.  Then there’s the whole conspiratorial aspect of the kid trusting the grandparent over the parent.  It models a dynamic that’s all too common, and can seem very real to the victim.  This is just one example.  Be on the alert, and if something seems fishy, it probably is.

Scams that take place over the computer or other devices are the worst.  These often involve identity theft, including bank or credit card information. I participated in a discussion on social media recently where someone described one that is attempted on me a couple of times a week.  It goes like this: you receive an e-mail or text message from a package carrier that says “We were unable to complete delivery because of incomplete address information.” and then has instructions for you to visit a web page to provide the missing information.  The page also says that they need to charge a service fee to complete the “redelivery” and conveniently offers to take the payment via credit card.  I wish I could share the screen captures that accompanied this discussion, because once you know it’s a scam, you can see just exactly how the scammer expects you to suspend reality to accept this situation.  For example, the carrier doesn’t have a complete address, but somehow, they have your e-mail address or phone number?  For that matter, if they have your phone number, why not just use it to call you?  In this example, the supposed shipper was the USPS, and we’re supposed to believe the post office is using the URL: “” which you can visit if you want, but don’t enter any information into it.  The weird URL aside, these fake pages are often rife with spelling, syntax, or formatting errors, which happen because the page author does not speak English well.  For example, the page mentioned above is asking for a service fee in the amount of “lump sum: $0.3”. 

Another one that I receive almost every day is a scam claiming that there is a problem with some purchase I made.  Often, they are claiming an order was cancelled, and they want to give me a refund.  This scam plays off people’s greed. They think they might get the undeserved refund, so they willingly hand-over their credit card or bank account number.  Other scammers pretend they are the bank or credit card company itself, and claim your account information is somehow out of date, and require you to log-in to “verify” it.  The websites these scams lead to can look incredibly realistic, but if you look at the URL, it’s usually a direct giveaway that you are not where you think you are.

Scams are everywhere, and these are only a handful of ways scammers are actively seeking to take advantage of people who are unaware or not paying attention.  You are your own first line of defense!  No anti-malware software can stop you from clicking an unknown link, or entering your personal data into a sham website.  But by paying just a little closer attention – especially in activity that involves personal information or account numbers – you can protect yourself.

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July 2024

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