Security and vulnerability: Cautionary Tales

The Seniorita, Winnetka-Northfield Public Library District's voice for seniors interested in technology, shares tips for preventing Internet scams.

Hardly a day goes by without hearing about another Internet scam, identity theft problem or fraudulent phone call.   It’s bad enough that scammers and other pests are poised to pounce. The fact that seniors may be special targets is reprehensible.  Take the case of one of my dear friends, an educated and intelligent woman who’s managed her life quite brilliantly, thank you.  Not too long ago, she got a robo call from a lovely young man who offered to help lower the interest rate on her credit cards.  His spiel went something like this: “I know it would be hard for you to negotiate with your credit card companies on your own, but since I represent many, many people, the credit card companies will listen to me.  All I need from you is your social security number.”  Of course, she gave it to him.  Within hours, $2000 had been fraudulently charged to one of her credit cards.  I don’t have the heart to ask if her IRA and other accounts are still intact.

The cautions of the tale:   Don’t lose your common sense for a few disastrous minutes!  As are many seniors, my friend is concerned about preserving her capital, so lowering interest rates is particularly appealing.  The nice young man schtick was a factor, too.  Don’t be charmed by a charmer!   NEVER give out your social security number to an unconfirmed source.

Then there’s the relative in distress scam: it’s so outrageous that one of the national TV news organizations did a segment on it.   The facts: an unsuspecting grandmother got a phone call from her alleged grandson who was out of the country, in trouble, and in need of a great deal of money.  She was about to send the money when she realized something was wrong.  Her grandson’s name was Matthew; he never, ever was known by Matt.  However, when the caller referred to himself as Matt, grandma’s alert button went on.

The cautions of the tale:  This was a sophisticated operation in which the crooks had used one of the grandson’s social media accounts to duplicate his voice and speech patterns.  Many variations of this deviltry can tempt the vulnerable, such as the scam where a person gets an email from a friend who is traveling and needs money immediately.  Think long and hard before succumbing to such a request.  And, by all means, do a little research.  The friend in need might be safely at home.

If you’re wondering about simple ways to protect your identity, stay tuned for more on passwords, viruses, etc.  In the meantime, take a look at AARP’s new book, Outsmarting the Scam Artists:  How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Protecting Yourself Online.


- Seniorita

P.S. Share your thoughts and ideas by sending a message to me at seniorita@winnetkalibrary.org

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