Friday, December 6, 2013

Why Scammers Aren't Funny

Scammers are getting more and more sophisticated with their cons.   Most are pretty obvious, if you are astute.   But being "on your toes" is no answer to dealing with scammers.

Scams abound these days.  I guess they always have, even back when I was a kid.   But they were easier to spot then, and the Internet has extended their reach to and from the four corners of the globe.

Not a day goes by that I don't get at least one scammer phone call.  My SPAM box fills and empties itself regularly, with scams.   I flag one or two messages as SPAM or scams in my regular inbox, nearly every day.

Visiting websites provides other opportunities to be scammed - daily.   You have to be very careful as to what you download or visit, as you could end up loaded by a trojan or scammed out of money.

When you go on websites that criticize scammers, you inevitably run into the comment, from some snarky young lad that, "Hey, these are obvious scams, just walk away!  If you are dumb enough to fall for them, you deserve what you get!".

And while there is a nugget of truth to that, the problem with "look out for yourself, bud!" as a means of protection is that it is hardly foolproof, even if you are astute.   It is also an anti-civilization message - the idea that people can just run roughshod over the rights of others and we, as a society can do nothing about it, is a flawed idea.   When we surrender control of our society to criminals, we give up on society.

Today, I was sucked partially in to two scams, and they bear mention.  What were the scams I got drawn into?

First was a "survey" site.   I ordered some Yakima parts for my truck, and went to ORS Racks Direct, which is a legitimate site, at least initially.  The fellow there on the chat page was really helpful in telling me which part numbers I needed.  I ordered the parts and used PayPal to pay.

Now, as you know, TRUST is a big part of ordering online.   You violate the trust of your customers, and you lose business - or lose your business.   People won't order from you if every order results in a stolen credit or debit card.   I will never order from ECS tuning, for example, since they let my debit card data get stolen by one of their employees.   The hassle just isn't worth it.

But anyway, I was happy with ORS Racks Direct, so when the order was complete, it asked me to take an online survey, and it seemed like a good idea.  

Bad idea.   It was a Bizrate surveyAnd online surveys, in general are a bad idea.

The survey implied I would be entered into a contest to win $100 or something.   I didn't care about that, but wanted to give good feedback.  At the end of the survey (which kept asking for personal information, like my e-mail address) it offered me a $100 "bonus" which turned out to be negative option magazine subscription offers.

I quickly closed the survey window.   Free isn't, and the gag they use for these subscriptions (which are "free" but require a $2 handling fee, so they aren't) is that you have to call or e-mail before the end of a six month trial period, or you are automatically charged the full subscription price on your credit card.  It really doesn't matter whether you cancel or not.  In many cases, these "affiliate companies" claim never to have received cancellation.

Survey sites are a bad idea - no one cares a rat's ass about your opinion.   They are just come-ons for some other gag.   Maybe there is one legitimate survey site out there.  I doubt it.   And it ain't worth the hassle to find out.   Lesson Learned:  Never, ever, ever take an online survey.   Your opinion doesn't count - but the surveyors would like to count your money.

Second was a "Wrong Number" or Mis-dial" gag.   I got an offer from Comcast Xfinity for cable modem and telephone service.  I figured it was worthwhile to shop my plan, as my Uverse contract had expired and I was now paying nearly twice as much as the "introductory rate" on Uverse.

So I called the number on the card, which was a mass-mailing piece they sent out.   Problem was, I called the wrong number.  I dialed 1-888 instead of 1-855.   A recording answered and said I had won a free Wal-Mart card.   I figured this was some promotional come-on, and it sent me to a telemarketer in India.

She asked several questions, of increasing detail.  I figured they needed my name and address if I wanted to establish service.   But she kept going on and on about free coupons and a $100 gift card, and I became more and more suspicious.   Nowhere did she mention internet service.  Finally, the gag was set - she wanted a credit card number to pay for "shipping and handling".

I realized I had a wrong number - or the Cable TV people were worse slimeballs than I thought!  I quickly hung up.

What is interesting is that it appears to me that these scammers intentionally obtained a 1-888 phone number that had the last seven digits of Comcast - and relied upon people misdialing the number to snare victims.   I wonder how many other popular phone numbers are mimicked this way as well.   In a way, it is like the websites that are one letter off from Facebook or whatever, that re-direct you to a survey site or some other odious deal.

I called back the correct number and got the Cable Company (only slightly less sleazy, of course) and found out that the savings in going to Cable modem were not all that great.

Lesson learned?  Well, I guess be more careful in dialing numbers, for starters.   And second, the first time someone mentions the word "free," just hang up the phone.

What annoyed me about both these gags is that, initially, I got sucked into them.   I did not get ultimately suckered (as far as I know - unwanted magazine subscriptions have yet to arrive!) but I didn't immediately spot them as phoney.   I must be losing my touch, with old age.

It is like the call from "John" (who calls as often as six times a day) telling me that, "ah, um, I have a package here for you, shipping's paid for and all...."   The first time he robo-called me, I actually talked to him, as I thought he was a real person.  I felt like a fool - and a chump.

And recently, I fell victim to an attempted download of the Babylon virus, when I was directed by Google to a look-alike site for Mozilla. Ad Blocker Plus put and end to those helpful "offers" from Evil Google, but for how long?

I guess I am getting older, but in the past, I didn't dodge these bullets so closely.   The snipers at SCAM-dot-com are getting closer and closer to hitting their target.  Pretty soon, they'll nail me.

And guess what?  I'm getting older.   It happens - to all of us.   So how is this going to play out when I'm 70 and even slower on the uptake and the scammers are even slicker and harder to detect?

Being scammed is a predictable event, in that case.  It is not a matter of "it won't happen to me" but when it will happen to me.

The scammers are getting better and better at scamming.   The fake websites are looking more and more real.

And this is why I think this attitude that we should tolerate scammers on the premise that "anyone dumb enough to get scammed deserves what they get!" is a bad attitude.  Why?  Because we are all potential victims, down the road.   And a society that doesn't protect the weak and helpless from powerful predators is not a society at all.

We need to shut down these obnoxious robo-calls that have plagued the country in the last few years.  We need to shut down scam websites and online surveys and other garbage that is of no value whatsoever.   We need to put an end to payday loans and title pawn loans that bankrupt individuals.

We need to fight back.   Sadly, this doesn't look like it will happen anytime soon.