Beware of Scammers | Opinion




Several years ago, I received a phone call from an elderly lady who had fallen victim to a scammer posing as her phone provider. She paid him close to $1,000 to fix her “issue” before realizing it was a scam. She was referred to me to delete the remote access software that the scammer had instructed her to download onto her computer and to block the scammer’s phone numbers on her phone.  

Although I was aware of scammers, I wasn’t sure how to help her, so after doing some online research, I came across a YouTuber who goes by the pseudonym Jim Browning. Jim goes after scammers and with his technical skills, is able to access the scammers’ computers to save victims. He also tries to shut down call centers, many of them in India. I contacted Jim, who very kindly gave me instructions on how to block the scammer from accessing this lady’s computer. 


This phone call led me down a very dark road: I wasn’t previously aware of the fact that in the U.S. alone, scammers rake in billions of dollars a year by duping their victims with stories of money owed or refunds due. The scammers send bulk emails, texts or phone calls claiming to be Social Security Administration, Norton, Microsoft, McAfee, Amazon, PayPal, etc. The scammer directs the victim to download software to take control of their computer and tricks them into believing they mistakenly added too much money into their bank account while sending the “refund.” The victim is then instructed to repay the money via gift cards. 

Another tactic is to dupe the victim into believing there are viruses and hackers on their computer. These scammers rely on fake pop-ups that appear on a victim’s computer, warning them that their files will be deleted if action isn’t taken. The victim is urged to purchase “security software” to stop this activity. Sometimes they instruct the victim to purchase a special “security card” from Target or Best Buy to stop the hackers. Lately they’ve been doing quick in and out transactions using Zelle or Cashapp. Some scammers even ask for cash to be mailed in a box, these are usually for transactions over $10,000. 


There are also the Publisher’s Clearing House scams, the utility bill scams, the “your grandchild is in jail and needs money for a lawyer” scams, and IRS scams. There are scams that pose as your bank, and even spoof the bank’s real phone number to trick you into believing your account was hacked. They all create some level of fear in their victim for their scam to work. 


Since my encounter with Jim, I have come across many people who go after these scammers. (The majority of the scammers are not in the U.S., so it becomes difficult to find and prosecute them). These so-called scam baiters, some of whom livestream their baits daily on YouTube and Twitch and have over one million subscribers, are viewed by thousands of concerned people from all over the world. We watch and learn as the baiter pretends to be a person falling for the scam. The scammers are ruthless, spinning their tall tales and are frequently quite abusive to their “customers”…as they like to call the victims. 

The baiters with very particular technical skills can gain access to the scammers’ computers and even their webcams. Sometimes they find documents with “customer” information on these computers and devote their time calling these “customers” to warn them and try to help them recover their stolen money. There are others who get bank information from the scammers to report to the FBI. I’ve heard stories of baiters intercepting mailed packages of cash and retrieving over $30,000 from the mules (those who collect the stolen money in the U.S.) and returning them to victims. Many victims are unfortunately not able to recover their lost funds and must live with the consequences of having been duped and are left with a very depleted bank account. I’ve even heard of people committing suicide after having all their money stolen. 

In my business, I deal with many “technologically challenged” people and regularly warn them about these scams. I’ve received numerous phone calls, asking me if I think the person on the phone is a scammer. Inevitably it’s a scam and my job turns into “cleaning up” after scammers have gained access to someone’s computer. Most were fortunately able to recognize that it was a scam, stop it in its tracks, hang up and call me before handing out any money. Some scammers get vindictive at this point and lock the victim’s computer with a passcode. This makes my job a lot harder.

My goal in writing this is to create more awareness about these scams. A man I spoke to recently insisted that the email he received was from the “real Norton”—until I instructed him to call his bank to find out if he really had the $3,000 they had supposedly given to him “by mistake.” While still on the phone with me, he did just that and became extremely distressed when he realized they had taken all but $500 out of his bank account. He had never heard about these scams before. This really surprised me as I was under the impression that most people know that these emails are fake. Scammers are ruining the lives of innocent people and I am making a concerted effort to educate people about them.

From the FDIC website: Be suspicious if someone contacts you unexpectedly online and asks for your personal information. It doesn’t matter how legitimate the email or website may look. Only open emails, respond to text messages, voice mails, or callers that are from people or organizations you know, and even then, be cautious if they look questionable. 


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