Let me tell you about something troublesome that recently happened to a past client. I’m taking this opportunity to warn as many of my friends, followers, prospective clients as I can because I don’t want to see anyone else victimized. Please, don’t let this happen to you, especially this time of year!
Recently a past client of mine, let’s call her Chloe (name has been changed to protect the innocent), received an email from what appeared to be the Geek Squad with Best Buy. The “Squad” is the group of technicians and programmers that assist the retailer’s customers with hardware and software repairs to their malfunctioning electronics.
Chloe is a recurring Best Buy customer who had used Geek Squad services recently, so she wasn’t surprised to receive an email from the team. The message simply served as a reminder that her debit card was charged for the annual fee that she had agreed to prior, but the transaction had bounced for some reason.
Chloe wears glasses, and she was scanning her emails on her iPhone, so she didn’t fully examine the message in great depth. Also, she was on the commute home from work, so she couldn’t use her laptop to verify the message on a larger screen.
Instead, she clicked on the number listed and spoke with a gentleman on the other end. She didn’t even notice that the phone number listed was from another country. He instructed her to call back once she got home.
When she got in, Chloe was still admittedly only half paying attention, and she simply hit the redial button, still not noticing that the number was foreign. The same man answered, which stuck her as odd, but she hung on his every word. He said, referring to the aborted automatic charge, that “these things happen,” and he could “guide” her through the payment process.
Within minutes, Chloe logged into her laptop, pulled up a website at the man’s request, and followed his instructions. Unbeknown to Chloe, this “website” gave the scammer complete access to Chloe’s computer, and he took that opportunity to install several software apps that allowed him to steal her banking information to numerous websites.
Fortunately, I noticed that something didn’t sound right when Chloe recounted this story over dinner. I wasn’t surprised. Not just because someone as trusting as her would fall for such a ploy, but because it also happened to me in the past. Fortunately, I recognized the signs and suggested she immediately hire an IT guy to take a look at her laptop.
It took him an entire eight-hour workday to remove the spyware, malware, and viruses that were downloaded. Afterward, he had Chloe promise to change every last one of her passwords and logins to be on the safe side.
Here are 5 steps you can take to avoid the same issues Chloe experienced recently:
Chloe knows she doesn’t see well, even with her glasses, when it comes to small-screened devices. She now only reads her emails on her tablet, laptop, or desktop at work. This is good advice for older folks to follow, as well, since vision tends to wane as we age.
If the number does not begin with a “1” and a three-digit area code, it is not from the United States. Even when American companies hire call centers abroad, such as in India and other parts of Asia, the phone numbers follow this pattern. Even “800” toll free numbers are ten digits and preceded by a “1.”
Does the email really sound as though it was written by a native English speaker, or a person that may be ESL, but provided with someone to edit their diction? If the answer is “no,” the message is more than a bit suspicious.
Looking back, Chloe and I found many telltale signs of her situation being a setup by fraudsters.
For one thing, when we pulled up the original email, it was said to have been sent from “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Please note that no respectable business, especially one as large and established as Best Buy, would use a free Gmail account provided by Google. That was certainly a red flag.
Now, to be fair, she had the common sense to know that, but really couldn’t read the small print on her phone clearly.
If the number and email domain are rubbing you the wrong way, use a search engine to see what you can uncover. After all, spammers and scammers email thousands, if not tens of thousands, of unsuspecting victims, just hoping someone will bite. That means you are not the only one that the fraudsters reached out to, and others may have fallen for the trick in the past. Many of these people post warnings in forums online with the suspect contact information.
Sometimes a responsible friend or family member should be called over to take a look at the email with a fresh set of eyes. You can simply screenshot the message in question or forward the original to him or her. Sometimes it is just best to get a second opinion on a situation before acting in haste.
Of course, as technology has now permitted us to conduct all of our holiday shopping from the comfort of our own homes, online orders are now more popular than ever. This is especially true as we weather the second Christmas season affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, among the thousands of internet retailers out there, beyond any doubt the most visited would have to be Amazon.
Because of the e-retailer’s massive popularity, it is often impersonated by cybercriminals attempting to harvest user data.
They have started doing this by imitating delivery emails and convincing customers that there is some type of issue with their packages. These phishing scams are risky, but basically trick the client into resubmitting personal information and then clicking on a link or download button in order to fix the made-up problem.
We care about you whether you’re a current or prospective client and don’t want to see you lose your hard-earned money to low-lives like fraudsters, scammers, and cybercriminals.
After all, in 2020 alone, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a $265 million customer loss due to non-delivery and non-payment frauds, and credit card thefts accounted for another $129 million loss. It is more common than many think. So, please keep these tips in mind to stay safe this season, and, as always, have yourself an enjoyable holiday.