My Turn: Scams:  Elders are the target group

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Published: 7/26/2021 4:14:36 PM

The term “phishing” serves as an analogy of the sport of angling. Phishing attackers use “lures,” setting out “hooks” to “fish” for credentials and financial data from the “sea” of Internet victims.

Those of us with our fine and weathered complexions may no longer be the target audience for fashion or political polling. However, we do have market appeal. We are the favored demographic of Internet scammers. We are a vulnerable group and not because we are naïve or never question information. We are NOT dopes. True, we may have an innate wish to trust our fellow beings, like Alice in “Anatomy of a Texting Scam” by Al Norman in the Recorder, July 5th.

Though it’s not only Alice who succumbs to cyber assaults. Per Norman’s article, there are close to 300,000 cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission each year. A friend was a recent target. And I too was a recent target. In my friend’s case, what happened was a text saying that an account was blocked. “Call this number,” she was told. Okay, she didn’t call that number. And what she did do was cool and clever enough. She went online and Googled the telephone number for the company, unaware that the scammers had set their trap at the top. In the end, she foiled the worst of the theft, but it still cost time and money. It still disrupted normal life, exacting a misery price that included “shame” on the one hand and fury on the other. Again, no bones shattered, no knife at the throat for sure, but still a personal violation.

In my case, there were two different scams. “Phishing expeditions,” they are called, while the fish someone hopes to hook is me. I was informed, via email, that I had made a purchase from “People Search.” I know and they know I know that I didn’t make said purchase. So, the very next instruction is a contact number. I didn’t call. I deleted the email, but then came another email saying I owed $9.85 cents. The specific charge made it seem more credible. They were reeling me in. Luckily, I called the official number on my credit card and found there was no nine-dollar charge on my account. “A phishing expedition,” the kind agent said, without hesitation.

A second event informed me of a property transfer in Arkansas. I deleted it but emails kept coming, as if we were in the midst of legitimate business negotiations. “We are ready to sign, all we need is your Social Security number.” As blatant as this scam is, after a few more messages, I questioned my suspicions. Why couldn’t I be the beneficiary of a property bonanza? Hadn’t I worked hard all my life? Finally, the key words “Social Security number” stifled my magical thinking and I resisted the bait.

I hate that we seniors are targeted. I don’t like trying to imagine who is out there so eager to deplete our savings, drain our accounts, disrupt our lives. I don’t want to picture a faceless entity that preys on the vulnerable. Or know that I am its prey. Nor am I up to the vigilance and the paranoia it engenders. I also know that we are small fry in the industry of cybercrimes, but still it matters.

So, what now? Theft is not new. To target the vulnerable is not new. But something about these Internet scams does seem new. During this past Covid year, the internet offered critical connections: To visit family in DC. To send hugs across the screen to a beloved nephew in Montreal. To meet with my writing group on zoom. But at the same time, connectivity to the outside world allows the unwanted contact in as well.

No doubt there will be further intrusions that appear on my screen. I can’t stop them. Except that, as a former teacher, I believe in the power of education to better ourselves by airing our stories and sharing honest information. The more public awareness, the more scammers’ tricks are exposed. Perhaps the Recorder could have a weekly page such as, Special Fraud ALERT or “A scam of the week club?” As we gather together again, let’s trade our “phishing tales” and see if we can foil the catch.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield


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