Over the past 15 years, technology has grown by leaps and bounds. We no longer head off to Blockbuster on Friday nights to rent movies, we simply search Netflix and stream that movie right over the internet. We no longer have to listen to the fax machine dial up the modem … EEEEEEEEYYYYYYYY … UUUURRRRRRRR when logging onto the internet. Heck, cord hook-ups have become a thing of the past as everyone has such easy and free access to WiFi. I barely printed any pictures over the last decade, as they’re all stored in that magnificent “cloud.” When you think about it, it’s all quite mind-boggling. How in the world does an entire movie “fly through the air” and download to my phone in a matter of minutes?
Unfortunately, as technology continues to bring ease and availability to our lives, it has also opened the door to new types of crime. Just this past June, the FBI released an entire report on the ways cyber criminals are targeting senior citizens.* Many of my clients are age 75-85 and in multiple instances, even the most sophisticated have given thousands of dollars to cyber criminals. On one occasion, a cyber criminal had hacked into an 84-year-old client’s computer. A legitimate-looking Microsoft “pop-up” appeared on the screen informing her that she needed to call an 800 number because her computer had been infiltrated by hackers. That statement was true; but unfortunately, the smooth criminal on the other side of the 800 number was not a Microsoft representative, as the pop-up ad had indicated. It was, in-fact, the hacker.
At this point, the scam artist insisted my client hurry to the store and buy $2,000 in Google Play cards to pay them (“Microsoft”) to remove the threat to her computer. Sure enough, she bought the Google Play cards and gave the hacker the required info, but that wasn’t enough. The hacker then informed my client that it was worse than originally expected, and sent her back to the store for another $2,000 worth of Google cards. She complied with the request again. So, after spending $4,000 to be rid of the computer hack, she called me in desperation, because the hacker told her she would need to get still more Google cards. It broke my heart to tell her she had been the victim of a scam, and after spending hours on the phone with her bank attempting to get them to accept some responsibility for letting her spend $4,000 with her debit card, we were informed that there was nothing they could do … she was out $4,000.
Just this past June, the FBI released an entire report on the ways cyber criminals are targeting senior citizens.
The types of internet and phone crimes that are happening have increased at an alarming rate. These are no second-rate scam artists, either. My wife, who is the CEO of OLV Investment Group and extremely tech savvy, received a call on her iPhone from “U.S. Treasury Department.” She answered, and the caller told her that he was from the IRS, we had made an error in filing our taxes, and we owed them $2,983. He was ready to take our payment right then and there over the phone! My wife, being the astute businessperson that she is, told the caller that he could talk to our CPA and that we believed we were in good order. The “IRS Agent” then got pretty aggressive and told my wife that if we didn’t pay right then, the local police would come to collect the money. She told the caller that she felt this was not right and that if he had questions, he should call our CPA and that she would not give them any credit card info or money. The caller became irate and told my wife to expect the police within three hours. At this point, she was very concerned. Ending the call, she wondered if it was a scam or could the IRS truly be working with local law enforcement? None of it made sense, but was it possible that this is what happens to people who don’t pay their taxes? The next thing she knew, her iPhone rang again and the caller I.D. read “Flushing Police Dept.” – the city where we live. She did not answer, and called the police department to ask if they were trying to reach her. When they said they were not, she then reported the scam. When she told me this story, I praised her for how she handled it. I could have only imagined one of my older, less sophisticated clients getting that call and being scared to death about owing money to the IRS.
These new “Smooth Criminals” are really good at what they do. They are out to scare, confuse, accuse and by all means necessary, get you to give them your money. If that’s through credit cards, Google Play, Amazon, they couldn’t care less. They want to intimidate you into giving them your info.
So, what to do? I encourage all of my readers to follow some of the FBI’s advice regarding any phone call or an internet interaction that doesn’t seem quite right.
The FBI makes some important recommendations for seniors in a recent press release, including the following:
- Contact an attorney before signing any legal document.
- Check financial statements monthly for unusual activity.
- Avoid unsolicited contacts.
- Do not give financial or personal information to a person you do not know and trust.
- Be wary when someone met on a dating site wants financial info or help.
- Be suspicious of sweepstakes scams.
Keep in mind that the government will NOT seek personal info or request money over the phone.
When it comes to guarding yourself from a scam, a good rule of thumb is this: if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Also, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Lastly, remember that these cyber/internet criminals are extremely smooth. The best way to avoid being a victim is to limit access to yourself. I tell all my clients, especially those with land lines, if you do not recognize the number on the caller I.D., let it go to voicemail. If it is important, they will leave a message. I have yet to have an internet scam artist leave a message for me to call them back. Their time is much too valuable to be leaving messages – answering machines can’t give them money.