Friday, January 12, 2024

Insight: Seeing right through invisibility cloaks

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most technologically adept individual and sometimes struggle with online tasks that others seemed to have learned in kindergarten.

It took me a while to learn how to download apps to my iPhone and I still have difficulty converting a PDF to a Word document, but there is a skill I did pick up a few years ago that has come in handy and has saved me a few times from getting scammed by online thieves.

Lately it seems that there are more scammers working hoaxes and schemes than ever before and some of them look so real that I’ve been tempted to follow instructions, yet some hesitancy in me tells me to check it out before giving out my personal information.

Recently I received an email telling me that my Sirius XM satellite radio subscription had expired and to resubscribe, all I had to do was to enter my name, address and credit card information. The logo attached to the email was indeed that of Sirius XM radio, but at second glance, the email appeared fishy to me.

It did not say which car the subscription was for, as I have one in my vehicle and another in my wife’s car. Also, the last time I renewed my Sirius XM subscription, they called me and let me know the VIN number for the vehicle with the subscription expiring. Since my credit card had not expired and I had not changed the card number, I smelled a rat, and I was right.

Upon closer inspection of the email, I was able to uncover the true email of the sender by clicking on the sender line and it was not Sirius XM satellite radio. Instead, it was an email address from Romania and although the body of the email request looked genuine, it was a scam. My subscription in both vehicles runs through mid-year.

Two days after receiving the bogus Sirius XM subscription renewal, another email appeared in my inbox, informing me my Amazon Prime video membership had expired and until I paid my membership fee by clicking on a special link that was provided and giving my credit card information, all access to my Amazon Prime video membership was immediately curtailed.

It didn’t take very long to dispel that, seeing as I can view Amazon Prime video on my iPhone. I was also able to check my membership status on the same webpage and discovered that I had been automatically renewed for the next month just three days before I received this scam email. Like the Sirius XM scam email, this one had Amazon in the “From” line and Amazon logos throughout the body of the email. It looked real and I believe many people will click on it thinking it is genuine.

Once again, the telling factor was to hover over the sender and another email address was revealed, and this one apparently originated on the continent of Africa. I felt relieved to have avoided that internet scam but worry how many others fall for it.

A few years ago, my stepson was looking for an apartment and found a house for rent in his price range on Facebook and it was just two streets from where we live. He told me that he had texted the phone number listed for the rental house and received a quick reply. The person who replied said they were suddenly transferred to Michigan and needed to rent it out immediately. He sent my stepson an application to complete and send back to him, which he did.

Within an hour after sending in the application, the person renting the house texted my stepson back, saying he had checked his employment status and his references, and that they checked out satisfactorily. He texted that because several other people were interested in renting the house, he suggested my stepson send him a $1,000 deposit to hold it for him until the fellow could fly back and sign the lease paperwork with him.

My stepson asked me if I could help him send the deposit because he was unfamiliar with sending the money through Walmart as the person renting the house instructed. I agreed, but I thought it would be prudent to take a short drive to physically look at the house before sending him the deposit.

The exterior of the house looked the same as the Facebook photo. But in the middle of the front yard there was a “For Sale” sign, a car was in the driveway and lights were on inside. That made me wary, so I asked my stepson to ring the doorbell and see if someone was there. A woman answered the door and said she had lived there for 25 years and was downsizing and selling her house. She had no idea that some internet crook had taken her information and was advertising her house as part of a rental scam.

Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of MTV’s “Catfish the TV Show,” I don’t know, but contrary to the philosophy of Ronald Reagan, lately for me, it’s Verify, then Trust.

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