READY: Scam bam, thank you ma’am

Mary Ready

The caller ID says Wirtz Stacy 1-703-272-4700.  

I have no idea who this is, but why be rude? Maybe it’s a friend of a friend. Maybe it’s someone I’ve forgotten I once knew. 

Well, it’s not Stacy at all. The caller identifies herself in a thick foreign accent with an exotic, but unintelligible name. She says my computer has sent her a message that it’s infected, and she wants to help me. From what I vaguely understand, she says her company is my provider.

  Out of curiosity, I listened to see how far she was going to take her pitch about my “infected” computer. When I said it was working fine, and I had just updated my anti-virus protection, she just kept repeating, “Ma’am, your computer tells us it’s infected, and we want to help you.”  

After awhile, it was no longer entertaining, and I asked her to call back in two hours when my computer-savvy son would be home. He goes into a pre-prepared, comedic routine in the Klingon language with sales callers that’s quite bizarre, and they hang up in bewilderment. To his disappointment, she didn’t call back. 

My sister-in-law, who received the same call, tells me the lady with the incomprehensible accent, forgettable name, and repetitious presentation wasn’t the least deterred by the fact she doesn’t own a computer.

This particular scam was so blatant, even a gullible dolt like me recognized it immediately.

If not fore-warned, I’m afraid I would’ve fallen for the call-back swindle known as the “one ring” scam because victims’ phones often ring only once before the call is disconnected. If a victim tries to return the call, they are charged a $19.95 international call fee plus $9 a minute for the duration of the call. The calls appear to come from Caribbean nations; however, some calls may be domestic. Area codes for the calls include 268, 274, 473, 809 and 876.

I looked up current scams, and they are abundant. They’re almost as egregious as the Obama Care con which assured folks they could keep their insurance plan and their doctor. 

Several have made the Better Business Bureau’s top 10 because of the number of people affected and the total dollars scammed. 

There’s the medical alert sting promising a “free” system that targets seniors and caretakers. The caller offers the medical alert device free of charge because a family member or friend had already paid for it. In many cases, seniors were asked to provide their bank account or credit information to verify their identity and, as a result, are charged a monthly $35 service fee. The system never arrives, and the victim must go through the ordeal of getting the bank to stop the draft.

If you’re in to Facebook, did you ever get a friend request from someone you already thought was your friend? If you hit “accept,” you have just become “friends” with a scammer.

One trick looks like a legitimate text alert from your bank, asking you to reactivate your debit card by updating your account information on a provided link. I might have fallen for this one, but I don’t have a debit card.  

For those who are paranoid about running afoul of the law, scammers create a fake Caller ID, which appears to be coming from a local police, sheriff or other law enforcement agency. They say there is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges. You may pay with a Western Union Moneygram, other wire transfer, or pre-paid debit card. 

Foreigners seeking to do the right thing in order to become legal or obtain American citizenship status are victimized by scammers who charge them for immigration forms and services that are either free or much lower in cost from the government. Their websites look almost identical to the actual www.uscis.gov/forms site. I almost fell for this one trying to help someone register for the citizenship exam until I noticed the subtle differences in the web address. The really aggressive scammers require the naive applicant to submit original documents and keep vital items like a birth certificate or passport until the victim pays to get them back. Often these scams are not reported because the immigrant fears getting the negative attention of actual immigration authorities. 

The advance fee loan ploy is particularly cruel because it preys on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for needed loans but must pay upfront fees — often more than a thousand dollars. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.

It’s not just the ridiculous Nigerian money transfer email written in appallingly awful grammar that’s out there. The scams are legion, and many of them have been around for decades, successful sometimes because victims are greedy and gullible. But all too often, the victim is innocent and trusting.

The Better Business Bureau publishes the top 10 scams each year along with warnings on how to avoid being taken by the evil that some humans do to other humans.

It makes for eye-opening reading.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.