2024 June 4 Avoid the new breed of professional scammers

Jun 04, 2024

Hi, this is Jim Cranston from 7EveryMinute and 7EveryMinute.com, the podcast and website about reimagining your life. Thanks for joining me today to talk about not getting scammed. If you like what you hear today, please leave a like, tell your friends, and send me a message.


Thanks for joining me tonight to talk about some classic scams that have been updated for the modern technology landscape. There have probably been phone scammers since shortly after there were phones, and I'm sure there were telegraph scammers before that. And if you read about any of the immigration waves into Ellis Island in New York City, there were certainly trust scammers where they established a trust and then used that to take money from somebody. 


Scams have been documented back as far as the Roman and Greek empires. Aristotle in 66 B.C. was writing accounts about ways people were scamming each other. They were documented in Egypt in 525 B.C. All of those had one thing in common. The communications were face to face. Up until the 1960s, some had other people involved in completing that whole contract.


In the 60s, it was all of a sudden possible to make anonymous calls. You could direct dial easily within all the continental United States, fairly easily within North America, and pretty easily around the world. It changed the way things happened. Suddenly you could be very anonymous in all that you did.


Now enter the internet, with near instant worldwide connectivity. The criminals adapted to the new capabilities and really sharpened their skills. But we're all too smart and too sophisticated for that, right? We wouldn't get scammed.


Actually, no. A lot depends on what's called social engineering. With social engineering, it's about establishing either a personal bond or a plausible context around the reason for the call. We focus a lot on people who are further along in life. I get fairly regular calls asking if I got my new Medicare card. Or similarly saying, Can I just confirm my Medicare plan for them? They want to make sure everything's okay.  


My immediate response is to ask directly if they're calling from the U.S. government Medicare department.  Since most of these calls have to do with U.S. Medicare by U.S. companies, they're probably originating in the United States. They're trying to trick me into switching into a different Medicare plan. Because they're in the U.S., they can be personally liable for a felony charge for impersonating a government entity. So they usually admit that, no, they're not from Medicare—in which case I just hang up.  


But those are the easy ones.  I also get a lot of other messages and requests to connect via all the popular messaging apps. No channel is safe.  The professional scammers are often controlled by another government. Very often, they're held in compounds, either in Southeast Asia or West Africa, and they want all your money and anything you can get as a loan. They want to get absolutely everything, because they're often held against their wills, and either they or their families are threatened with violence if they don't do a good job.


They have no interest in you at all, other than as a source of money to prevent more violence in their lives.  They also have a huge support network of fake websites and fake apps. They especially prey on the elderly and the lonely. Remember the social engineering part of it. They call and say, Oh, I know what it's like not having anybody to talk to.


You think, Oh, somebody who understands me.  Always stay aware.  More importantly, they're very well versed in overcoming objections. They have scripts to keep the conversation moving along in the direction they want. Often they make it seem as though they're working together with the victim towards making a life or a goal together.


We can save money for a vacation together. How fun would that be? We could get together. We'll meet in Asia. We'll meet somewhere. They'll buy the tickets. Send me the money, we'll buy the tickets. It just goes on and on.  The whole practice, rather poetically, is called pig butchering.


You can look it up on the internet and you will find many examples, including IC3, which is the FBI's department dealing with that particularly. I already got WhatsApp messages and Instagram requests for women looking to induce themselves to me. 


Now, truthfully, I'm not such an amazing person that an attractive, independently wealthy, 30-some-year-old Asian Ph. D. who happens to live without working in Paris, wants to introduce herself to me. These are the sorts of things I get a lot of, often on LinkedIn, because LinkedIn has more professional information. They look at my profile, see if it's someone who they might be interested in trying to scam. LinkedIn's gotten a little better recently, but I used to get almost one a day. It was typically like a former perfume salesman retired, or the head of international marketing at a bank looking for things that are unique in your profile.


All these things that have a little hook saying, Oh, I'm interested in you. It's very carefully structured to try and hook people in. With information that's available on the general internet, coupled with what's on the dark web, many of those things are already known to the caller. 


If any of your social media accounts have ever been hacked, the caller may also have that information at their disposal, too. They truly are a professional operation. They truly are very slick—and this person you're talking to is probably just a professional. They got a name and they have a script they follow. They probably really aren't real people. These operators are very professional. They're professional in their design, and they're brutal in their implementation. 


In 2022,  these scammers successfully stole an estimated $2.57 billion dollars, just in crypto. In 2023, they stole an estimated $12.5 billion in one year.  This is big business. It's well funded, and there's a lot of psychology behind it.


That's a lot of scamming.  Since they try to pre-qualify the victims, it's not the poor lady down the street that lost her $1,000 in savings. It's typically older, often single people that have wealth.  One case I was reading about was a 75-year-old professional retired man in the Midwest who ultimately lost over $715,000 including all his stocks, bonds, and other investments, plus was talked into taking out a $45,000 bank loan and a $212,000 home equity loan. His total losses were $716,212.  Ouch.  


Even if you think you're pretty savvy and subtle and totally sophisticated—if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The professional scammers have become very, very good. They use the dark web extensively. They find out information that shouldn't be public.


They trade in personal information from your account, as well as any of your social media accounts that have ever been compromised. This makes them very well-versed in making themselves seem appealing to you.  Never, ever just send money to somebody you just met on the web.


If you feel you must send something, run it through some standard payment service that has some sort of tracking.  If the standard payment services are not acceptable to your new friend, that's a huge red flag. If they claim they live in California, only send it to a Western Union office in California. It could still be a scam, but at least there'll be a photo of the pickup.  


If any financial opportunity seems too good to be true, run away from it as fast as you can.  If you think your partner or  spouse may be involved in such a scam, confront them. Lock the accounts. It may sound harsh, but who knows. The psychology of these people is extraordinary. They will belittle people, they will encourage them to do whatever they have to do to work them, to get them to just extend themselves until there's nothing more they can get.


These people are experts in the total psychology of fraud.  A friend of mine had her Facebook account hijacked, and the scammer quickly read through her history, all the messages from the past couple months, and then immediately contacted her friends. They concocted the story that I was in the hospital. They managed to grab a couple thousand dollars in an hour or two. 


Don't underestimate their determination to defraud. They're quick, they're good, they're professional, and they have a lot of very well-rehearsed scripts to coach people along. Be safe in all you do. If you do get an unsolicited invite from your dream mate,  be really careful it doesn't turn into a nightmare. 


That's it for the evening. I know it seems like one of those things you would never fall for, but the criminal elements behind these scamming operations are very professional and very well-versed in what they do. Even what starts out as a casual online friendship can be turned around into something where you think you're helping a friend out, but their only concern is to defraud you.


That doesn't mean you should be hard-hearted. But be cautious. You can always verify things with one or more video phone calls to get a better feel for the context. Not pictures—live video. If they're supposed to be wealthy and living in Paris, but they're calling you from some dim room with other speakers in the background, it doesn't add up.


It doesn't have to be one call. It can be multiple calls. If the person doesn't look quite the same every time, take note of that.  Use your head. Be extremely careful. Your homework (always optional) is to think about how many unsolicited invitations have you gotten through various social media channels and texts and all that, and how you handle them. Extra points if you think about  any of the characteristics that struck you as odd or unusual—a big difference in age between you and them, an odd backstory. Write them down. It gets pretty humorous over time.


As always, remember, the war in Ukraine (UKR7.com), the wars in the Mideast—there are lots of things going on. The World Central Kitchen (WCK.org) operates in numerous disaster zones around the world providing food, typically from local vendors. It helps the economy both ways, it gets people fed, and also helps the local businesses. If you're able, please consider donating to either of those. If you want to donate locally, that's effective as well. If you're not in a position where you want to donate, something as simple as a smile to somebody you meet in the street can change their day, change the world for someone. Anytime you live outside yourself, it changes your perspective on the world. One of the best ways to care for yourself is to care for others. Make somebody's day a little bit better. 


As always, thank you for stopping by. If you found something interesting or useful, please pass it along. Please hit that like button. If not, please drop me a comment as to what you'd like to hear. Have a great week. Remember to live the life that you dream of, because that's the path to true contentment. Love and encouragement to everyone. See you next week on 7EveryMinute and 7EveryMinute.com. Thank you.

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