A week from today, on Sunday, September 22, Silas and I and my books will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall, Brooklyn, table 120, toward the north end of Borough Hall. The fair runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello. Also, Borough Hall is easily accessible by subway. (If I, not knowing Brooklyn, can get there, so can anyone.) Because Silas and I will be meeting at my apartment at 9:00 a.m. or even a little earlier, I may not have time to do a post that day. If not, I'll do it Monday or Tuesday. The fair is outdoors, rain or shine. We'll have a canopy over us, but we'll still pray for good weather.
|Silas and me at the Brooklyn Book Festival, 2018.|
A breezy day. This time I'll wear a cap.
Scams, and How to Beat Them
I have been scammed a lot. Recently I got a phone call, ostensibly from my bank, but the woman spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand a word. Leery of scams by phone, I told her to write me and hung up, knowing that if it was a legitimate call, she would know my address. A day or two later I got not one but two letters from J.P. Morgan Chase in Ohio, saying that they had returned (i.e, not honored) two checks, each for $9,500, written on my savings account by someone in Missouri. If I knew who wrote the checks and the transactions were legitimate, I should contact them immediately.
The checks were clearly fraudulent, so I was relieved that the bank had done the right thing. But some good instinct prompted me to contact an official at my local Chase branch, and she urged me to come in and show her the letters. When I did, she assured me that my account was secure, and then showed me printouts of the checks involved. They were written by the scammer to herself and then endorsed for deposit only, but were drawn on my savings account. Somehow she had learned the routing number of my bank and account number of my savings account.
As the bank representative explained, the checks, though they looked like authentic Chase checks, were suspect for several reasons:
· They were drawn on my savings account, whose routing number and account number appeared at the bottom of each check. But that’s not what savings accounts are for; one writes checks on checking accounts. Why did she do this? Because she had the account number only for my savings account.
· It was especially suspect to write two large checks in quick succession. Why not just a check for a small sum, to see if it would work? Then, if it was accepted, write a larger check.
· Because of some federal regulation that I haven't grasped, the feds become involved if the amount of the check is $10,000 or more. Knowing this, banks are suspicious of checks involving sums just under that amount.
So the fraud had been thwarted, but there was more to do. First, freeze the existing savings account, to prevent further fraud. Next, open a new savings account, and inform Social Security that my monthly checks should now go into it. Then, wait. If the scammer should write another check on my old account, the bank where she tries to deposit it will get the message, ACCOUNT FROZEN / FRAUD ALERT. At that point the scammer will be exposed and maybe get arrested. The bank representative I was dealing with assured me that this had happened more than once right there in my branch bank. Exposed, the scammer bolts for the door; some are caught, some escape. So the old account, though frozen, will stay open for two months, after which it will be closed forever.
The bank official went on to inform me that all kinds of scams are widespread today. For example, scammers have some small portable device that lets them read the information on an ATM card when it is taken out to be inserted in an ATM; the card’s owner is completely unaware of this. Technologically, the scammers are one step ahead of the banks and the authorities, who are forever scrambling to catch up. Constant vigilance is the best defense, and thanks to it my bank detected the fraudulent attempt to withdraw a large sum from my savings account.
This scam was new to me, but I have knowledge of several others.
· The fear scam. You get a phone call with a recorded voice telling you that if you don’t do something immediately, you will suffer dire consequences. It may be seemingly from your bank, your credit card outfit, or Social Security, who claim they have been trying to reach you, and this is the last notice you will get, before they take action. The scammers hope that fear will prompt you to give them information they can use.
· The shame scam. You get an e-mail saying that the scammer has hacked into an account of yours and sees that you’ve been visiting naughty sites online, and if you don’t fork over a stated sum at once, probably in bitcoins, your employer, friends, and family will be informed. Getting such an e-mail, I just laugh and delete it, for I haven’t visited any such site. But a friend of mine had, and when a scammer tried to blackmail him, he refused to pay. He didn’t care if others were informed; in fact, he alerted them to the situation. He refused to be motivated by shame.
· The grandchild-in-trouble scam. An elderly person gets word that a grandchild – usually a grandson – is in some kind of trouble and desperately needs money. The scammer is counting on a grandparent’s indulgence and generosity, when it comes to grandkids, and it often works. But when I get such a phone call, as I once did three times in a row, I just laugh it off, having no grandchild.
· The sudden friendship or aloha scam. You get a delightful e-mail, seemingly from a young woman, saying that, to judge by your profile, she thinks you are an interesting person and she would like to be friends with you. I call this an aloha scam, because I got one such e-mail that began with a hearty “Aloha!” I almost answered it, but then held back. My profile? Which profile, where? And why is she so eager to be friends with a stranger? Suspicious, I deleted the e-mail and have never regretted doing so.
· The credit card scam. You get a very official-looking e-mail informing you that there has been suspicious activity in your credit card account, so they need some personal information from you to protect your account.
As regards the last one, savvy as I am in such matters (or so I like to think), I’ve been fooled twice. The first time the scammer was lucky, for certain recent events made me think the message was legit. When dubious charges to my credit card followed, I questioned them and had to get a new card. Then, a few months later, I got a similar e-mail and foolishly supplied some information. The next day I realized my mistake, reported my card lost (there was no online option to report the fraud), tore it up, and got a new one. You know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. And I thought myself so savvy! Moral: We’re all vulnerable. Even the most (self-styled) savvy operator can get fooled. The remedy: eternal vigilance. When in doubt, don’t interact with them in any way, delete the message, do nothing.
Some of the scams are obvious, some are not. Scamming strikes me as a vile and foolish way to spend your time, but even if only one person out of a hundred is duped into giving up money or information, it is probably worth it for the scammer financially. Some scammers, I suspect, are living high, very high, on the hog.
And so, good luck to all. Illegitimis non carborundum. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Least of all, the scammers.
Coming soon: When gays savage gays: the issue that splits the gay world down the middle.
© 2019 Clifford Browder