Despite spam filters on our email and posted warnings from banks and other financial institutions, scams and fraud seem more prevalent today than ever.  Clearly, scams would not exist if they were not successful.

Newly released (Feb. 2023) Federal Trade Commission data shows that consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, an increase of more than 30% over the previous year.  Topping the list are investment scams, followed by imposter scams.

Scams and fraud seem to be hitting home.  Those poorly written, error filled emails such as the Nigerian Prince scam, which has a long history and originates in multiple countries, continue to be successful.  But new versions of scams are proliferating, and often in unexpected ways.

Recently, charges for four nights that I spent in a private small resort in Kauai resulted in four separate billings, adding up to over three times the legitimate charge.  My inquiries and questions were mocked by the owner.  He claimed not to have made the charges, though they clearly came through his LLC.  He became increasingly hostile and verbally abusive to my questions.  My credit card company is currently investigating the charges as fraud. 

Kauai is a wonderful place to visit.  It is breathtakingly beautiful, and every evening in Poipu at 7 p.m., giant turtles come in from the ocean to rest on the shore for the night.  The resort, while not luxurious, was pleasant and comfortable.  I was not confronted with fraudulent charges until after I left.  But the question remains:  why would a small business owner risk their reputation with such a transparent scam?  Do people actually not notice fraudulent charges?

One way I avoid dealing with telephone scams (and marketing calls) is to keep all of my personal contacts on my iPhone, shared with two other devices.  If I receive a call from an unknown number, I simply do not answer.  Any business, friend, or acquaintance not in my contacts list will likely leave a message. 

One of my older friends uses a landline and an old-fashioned answering machine.  I suspect that she, more than most, is targeted for solicitations and spam notices for these reasons.  The constant calls are frustrating to her and her response is to leave the phone off the hook, a practice that I fear endangers her personal safety and frustrates legitimate callers who are unable to leave a message. 

Not too long ago, a friend received a phone call telling her that she was a winner of the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.  As unlikely as it sounds, she was taken in.  Until, that is, she was asked (and refused) to pay money before collecting the “prize.”  But her refusal did not stop the caller from continuing to call, until she had to obtain legal counsel to free her from what had become harassment.  Scams and fraud involving sweepstakes, lottery, and imposters are also high on the list of FTC-noted swindles.

A common trick of scammers is that they develop a relationship with their target.  Another dear friend was scammed by someone she “met” through an online dating service.  This individual wrote to her daily, inquired about her well-being, made her laugh, became a caring friend, and spoke about his desire to meet her in person.  But there were red flags:  why would a Florida resident be looking for a mate in California?  Why was he unwilling to meet on Facetime or Zoom?

This scam had echoes of the Nigerian Prince scam.  She was asked to log in and unlock a cryptocurrency site for him so that he could access his money.  The suitor lost interest when she declined to do so. 

Perhaps the IRS has called you and threatened prosecution and possible prison time if you don’t pay your tax bill immediately.  Or, for your convenience, the caller offers to accept gift cards as payment for your purportedly delinquent account.  Or perhaps a bank emails you a message that there are fraudulent charges on your account, and you need to log in immediately (link provided), only you do not have an account with this particular bank.  Or the USPS tells you via text message that your package has arrived at the warehouse but cannot be delivered due to incomplete address information.  Just click on this link to verify your information.  A person you barely know has his/her wallet stolen in another country, and needs you to send money so that they can come home.  These are all scams. 

How can we avoid being taken in?  Check the sender’s email address carefully to determine if it is the legitimate email of the purported sender, or a company you do business with.  Or, simply ignore it.  Do not click on any links.  And then, delete, delete, delete. 

Merriam Webster defines fraud as “the intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.”  Scam is defined as “to deceive and defraud (someone).”  These words are often used interchangeably, but in short, it seems that a scam becomes a fraud when the victim loses money or property. 

Scammers have gotten better at telling convincing stories.  Scams and fraud are alive and well.  Remember the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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