The other day, I received an email that was a receipt billed to my credit card. There wasn’t a lot of information other than it was apparently charged through Square (I’m not familiar with them but know they handle credit card charges via iPad systems), the amount charged ($94.99), the name of a person who supposedly I bought something from, a telephone number, and a thank you for shopping with them.

By Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA (Snake oil or Memory Elixer anyone?) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Wesley Fryer from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA (Snake oil or Memory Elixer anyone?) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Since I didn’t think this was my transaction, I checked my credit card statement. Sure enough, I had been charged for this amount. I thought that if this was a fraudulent charge it would be odd for them to email me to say in effect “Guess what, we just stole your money,” so I decided to call the person listed on the email to find out what this was about.

I called and talked a very nice lady in Tampa, Florida who knew absolutely nothing about this transaction and had never heard of the person I was trying to contact. She said something similar had happened to her once and gave me tips on what to do next.

I called the bank about this charge and they immediately cancelled my card and said I could come to the bank and instantly get a new one. I would also need to file a claim to dispute the fraudulent charge and have the charge reversed. I did this and about 10 days later received a notice that the money had been returned to my account.

End of story—not quite. I wanted to know the details—this was personal damn it and I wanted to see the responsible party hung at dawn. So I went to the bank and the conversation went like this:

“I’d like to know the details about this false charge on my credit card.”

“We don’t have any details.”

“Well someone, somewhere has the details. You just don’t hand money over without checking it out do you?”

“Not quite, but close to it. Generally, your money is simply refunded and that is the end of it.”

“Well it’s not enough for me. I want blood.”

“We’ll if you want, you can file a report with the police.”

“And what will that do?”

“Probably nothing, but I’ll make the call to 911 if you like (she laughed).”

So I guess this is what we have finally come to—there are so many crooks out there it just isn’t worth going after them. So many scammers, so few—well you get the idea.

But lately, fending off these parasites has become an every day event. I regularly get calls from people seeking donations for some law enforcement agency or veteran’s group. Problem is none of them really exist.

For awhile I was getting at least two telephone calls each day from people who announced, “ I’m from Microsoft’s Technical Support Department and we want to notify you that your computer has become infected by a virus and the only way you can get rid of this problem is to let us help you. “ My first response was to believe the person calling (I just don’t live in a world where people tell lies and try to trick people).

“Man, a virus! I’ve had a computer viruses before and it basically destroyed my machine (computer to everyone else).”

“And that’s where we can help you.”

Then he went into this long discussion on how they could fix my computer and how if I didn’t fix it immediately, it could be sending out my personal information to who-knows-who. He then wanted me to go to my computer and run a few checks.

It took a few seconds (a few more seconds than a really sharp person would need), but I soon realized things didn’t add up—my computer had shown absolutely none of the signs of having a virus. Also the caller’s telephone number did not come up on my phone and I have learned that calls with no number are generally up to no good. Finally, why in the hell would Microsoft be worried about me? So I hung up on them (and prayed to the computer gods that I had not made a mistake).

Later, I checked on the Internet and found that this was a scam that had been going on since 2009 and if you bit they would:

  • Get me to buy some software I didn’t need.
  • Get enough personal information from me to get into my bank accounts, etc.
  • Make me think they saved my computer after I paid a fee (with a credit card they would probably make other fraudulent charges to.
  • Insert malware software into my computer and then harvest any information they needed.

I didn’t fall for the scam, but I have to admit that I had my finger on the trigger for a few seconds. From then on, I either hung up on them or played with them until I got bored and then told them about this special place God had for them.

By Tim & Selena Middleton from Toronto, Canada (st jacobs oil) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tim & Selena Middleton from Toronto, Canada (st jacobs oil) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
More recently, I have received a barrage of emails from well-known banks all basically stating there has been a problem with my bank account and it is imperative that I update my information. All the messages were followed by a “Click here to get started. “ They also insured me that I would always be on a “secure server.” They threatened that if I didn’t respond immediately, “my account will be closed.” I even receive one of these emails about a bank where I have never had an account.

Something that these emails have in common is that the English is a little off, words are often misspelled, and there is often unneeded spaces within words. They are kept simple, the bank’s name is used frequently, and the word “secure” is used a lot. I checked with a local bank to make sure they were bogus and sure enough they were.

I got to thinking about these scams and came up with a figure of at least 30 times a year that I was approached by these creeps trying to rip me off. To me that indicates that 1) there are a lot of worthless scum out there, and 2) these scams work.

I often hear that it is the elderly that are duped by these cheats and that really ticks me off.

What to do about it. I’m not really an expert, but I some of the tips I have heard are:

  • Always be suspect of anyone calling on the telephone and asking for your information or your money (in fact never give out personal or credit card information over the phone if you didn’t initiate the call).
  • Realize that hanging up on someone you didn’t ask to call you is not rude.
  • Never feel you have to respond to any emergency immediately. If it is an important, you will be contacted through the mail or asked to go into the bank’s office.
  • When phone caller ID says “unknown” or lists no name or number, be very suspect. When there is a name or number, if you don’t personally know the caller, again, be very suspect.
  • Get some type of insurance or coverage for identity theft (I get mine added to my car insurance [why I don’t know] for a very nominal fee).
  • Never, never give a donation to a politician who calls on the phone (this is here just because I detest these calls [and most politicians].
  • Add your telephone numbers (both landline and cell) to the “National Do Not Call Registry” (I have and it definitely cut down on my unsolicited calls).
  • Check the status of your credit card, bank, and other financial accounts on a regular basis.

I would also add that you can get identity theft protection companies to monitor your financial accounts. I currently get this protection provided free from at least two companies that were hacked recently and are now trying to make their customers feel better. But rather than listen to me, type in “How to protect against identity theft” on the Internet and it will lead you to a lot of great sites.

It’s sad we don’t do more to go after the lowlifes that work these swindles. I guess we just have to hope they get what they deserve down the road. In the mean time, don’t trust anyone who is not related to you. Better, don’t trust anyone who wants your money or any more information than your first name.

Pet Peeves: Snake Oil Salesmen
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