I first heard of identity theft in an old episode of Law & Order called Identity (2003). The story was about an 80-year old man who was accused of murdering someone who stole his identity. The man had been scammed by some fraudsters; he had fallen prey to an email scam, given away his social security number, and eventually lost all his savings and his home of many decades. Keep in mind that this was before the age of smart phones.
With an explosion of technology, online services, etc. the number of and variety of these scams has only increased exponentially. A few years back, Mr. P received a text notification of a pizza purchase made somewhere on the East Coast, for $50. That was a lot of pizza and we were at home, on the West Coast. He immediately called and reported the charge and had the card replaced. It happened again and we replaced the card again… glad we haven’t faced worse things.
These days, the types of scams we hear about are super scary. For instance, the one showcased in the Netflix show Jamtara. For those who aren’t familiar with it, Jamtara is about a group of youngsters who run an extremely successful phishing scam from their village. Their victims range in age, gender, profession, but in the end, the group simply relies on people’s gullibility and their ignorance. Not many are aware that giving out their credit card number and other personal details can be dangerous. They also don’t realize that bank personnel do not call and ask for these details for any transaction. Meanwhile, we also watched a few YouTube videos of a hacker hacking scam artists. These scammers targeted older adults in the US, who didn’t have much knowledge about online banking. They conned the poor people in order to get access into their bank accounts and got away with thousands of dollars. The person who made the video gave the scammers a taste of their own medicine… what was even worse? Most of these scammers were in India.
Why am I talking about online scams today? My parents experienced a type of online scam recently. Luckily, there was no monetary loss or other major issues, but this is what happened. My parents’ washing machine (bought from Croma Electronics) had some issues and my father called a service company that he found online. My mother told me that two young, crude guys came to repair the machine; they looked nothing like service professionals, neither in their attire nor in their behavior. She and our maid both felt very uncomfortable, but they came, repaired, gave a receipt, and left. The machine conked off again, in a few days, and this time my father called the Croma showroom directly. They sent someone to take a look and that’s when my folks realized that the guys who came the first time were not linked to Croma at all… even though their name came up in a Google search for Croma washing machine servicing. The manager at the Croma showroom then said that many such duplicate service centers are available, who somehow come up in Google searches, but have nothing to do with Croma. How would one know?!
More recently, my father ordered a refrigerator from Amazon, and it was delivered at a time when he was not at home. Three guys brought it, two very uncouth fellows, and a decent one, according to my mother who had to deal with them. They barely gave my mother any time to empty the old fridge and were rude enough to say, “If you’re not ready, we’ll take the new one back, and you can contact customer support about it.” Luckily our maid was there to help and they managed to hand over the old fridge. There was no fraud in this episode, but the way the men behaved was very unacceptable.
With a sudden surge of smart phone users among all age groups, the number of gullible targets has increased and it is really sad to see how online scammers get to people old, young, and everyone in between. We as a generation that is slightly more familiar and knowledgeable of how the world works, should educate our parents and elders on the dangers of the online world. It is essential for them to be cautious, and aware of the types of scams that can occur and be able to protect themselves from being conned.
Here a few pointers to get started:
1. Always use a security software such as Norton, McAfee
2. Never save credit card information on online shopping websites
3. Never provide sensitive information such as date of birth, credit card number, Aadhar number/social security number to strangers who claim they are calling from a bank you have an account in. Keep in mind that bank officials DO NOT ask for such information over the phone.
4. When dealing with online searches, remember that Google and other big search engine shows a list of advertisements/preferred businesses before showing the actual results.
5. Caution from your side can reduce your chances of being conned
Have you personally experienced any online scams or have you heard of any interesting ones that have made you wonder how people come up with such things in the first place? Do share!
Until I write again, stay safe, healthy, and aware!