Phished again!

September 22, 2010 — Leave a comment

I’ve been phished! Fortunately I realised the pop-up was a scam and hit delete.

I was astute that time. But recently I clicked open an email account and found a series of messages each exhorting me, with growing urgency, to confirm details of the account as it had been inactive for a while. As the final request threatened expulsion from the account I glanced through the list of questions and said yes, yes, yes, clicked off and thought no more about it.

Fast forward a couple of days and my personal email filled with enquiries from acquaintances checking on my welfare, fearing I was stranded in London with no cash, no credit and no contacts. That last one fortunately raised a flag in minds quicker than mine – most were aware I have many contacts in said city.

I was lucky. A quick email to the provider and one to all those contacted cleared the issue up. No I am not stranded destitute in London, but I am a fool. Thank you for your concern.

Since this blush-making experience I have lost my arrogance in believing I could not be conned, and attended a talk on ID theft and scams given by the Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau here in Houston. Hand outs included a list of valuable numbers of who to contact when you have been scammed. An event which will effect one in every 20 Americans this year according to Javelin Strategies, a research firm who reports on identity theft.

In the US where everyone carries photo ID in the form of a driver’s licence, and where nothing, but nothing, gets the go ahead without using a Social Security Number (SSN), it is easy to be lulled into a quick response to a request for that number. In a heartbeat all your information is flashed up for whoever inquired – quite probably down to the size of your bra.

The BBB seminar instilled in us that it’s shrewd to be rude and to never give out personal information to someone who calls you, instead hang up! If you instigate the call that is a different matter. And I learnt that those most at risk of having their Social Security Number stolen where newborns and the recently deceased – is there no shame?

It is a global issue this phishing, scamming and conning, and I also learnt it is illegal to participate in foreign lotteries. Though that doesn’t stop the direct mailings appearing in your letter box telling the exciting news that you have won $2 million on the Canadian or German or Belgian lottery, but in order to claim this fabulous amount please immediately send two thousand dollars. It is easy to be lured by all that filthy lucre. Candice Twyman of the BBB put it succinctly when she said, No matter what your mother told you, you are not a winner!

The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) advises that 13% of seminars offered through direct mailings are fraudulent in that they are not selling a legitimate investment but the wording, often with a little twist on something legitimate, can draw you into the scam.

I was washed along on the tide of hope when Oprah told America the acai berry was the new buzz food promising weight lose and eternal youth. Google acai and offers of a free bottle of pills that will change your life pop up. Take that first offer and before you know it, another bottle and another bottle appear, and then the invoice for a caseload of acai you did not order will land on your doorstep. You did not read the fine print. You’ve been scammed.

Some, the 419 Nigerian scams, are one thinks easy to spot but countless amounts have been extorted from gullible individuals, often elderly and needing an influx of cash or wanting to leave an inheritance. It’s not new, this scamming business. The Spanish Prisoner Con was the favoured scam of the 1920’s seeking, by mail or telegram, financial help in gaining the release of a scion of a wealthy family from a Spanish jail. Scam!

9 million Americans are estimated by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) to have their identities stolen each year. I was a Brit when mine, along with my pride, was stolen at Heathrow airport; my handbag ripped from under my sleeping head. No passport, no ticket, no money, no credit cards, no phone at 4 in the morning was no fun. Fortunately the British constabulary came to my aid offering me a cup of tea, though I would have preferred gin, as they wrote up the official report. Stupidity should have been mentioned, but the British Bobby was far too polite to say I was an idiot; pleased with a peaceful darkened corner where I could stretch out, and which gave easy access to the outside world, and a quick get away for thieves.

Quite apart from the unnerving feeling of not being able to prove you are who you say you are, the hours of bureaucracy it takes to cancel your cards, and then replace them, a passport, a driver’s licence and so on is exhausting.

So yes I’ve been conned a number of times now. Scammers, phishers, dumpster divers, thieves and acai berry sellers have all tried to make my life hell, enough to send me to the nearest pub to get pissed.

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