Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

Autumn 2021 marks the next seasonal cycle for fraud and scams. Let’s examine the current round of scams, how to recognize them, and how to act if you find yourself a victim. Recent lead stories included Hurricane Ida, closing a chapter on Afghanistan, and COVID-19 surges. As always, the criminals see opportunity in the tragedies, anxieties, and sincere efforts of those facing the events of the day.

The current pandemic continues to serve as a staging ground for new scams. The two that have caught the attention of fraud watchers involve vaccine booster shots and “free” streaming services. Preying on the desire of many to be safe from COVID, criminals are working overtime to lure potential victims by promising availability to vaccine booster shots. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pfizer vaccine booster shots will be available to at-risk individuals on September 20. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster shots are not currently scheduled for distribution. Anyone offering booster shots or oral medications in place of a vaccine is promoting a scam which should be reported to the CDC (www.cdc.gov or call 800-232-4636) or your state department of health.

Another COVID-related scam uses email or text messages. The message appears to originate from Netflix or Hulu and offers “free” streaming services, noting everyone is eligible for this “gift.” Clicking on the offer opens a series of web pages and directions to enter credit card information. Neither Hulu nor Netflix is offering free service to households. The cleverly crafted imitation web pages are designed to collect usable credit card information for sale or use by the criminal. Internet criminals are pursued by the FBI and crime can be reported to the website www.IC3.gov.

Scammers are adept at drawing the interest of possible victims by using “Clickbait” as a tactic. Simply described, clickbait is the use of words or phrases that elevate interest in a message and all but compel the recipient to “click” on a link such as Congratulations, You’re Approved, You’ve Won, Grand Prize Winner, or $100 Gift. Often these messages appear to originate from a legitimate company or provider such as Xfinity, Home Depot, ATT, or Walgreens. The best course of action is to ignore these messages and not allow curiosity to take control. While you may not enter any personal information after you click on the link, that click provides the sender with knowledge that your email address is real, the location of your computer, type of computer you are using, internet browser on your computer, operating system being used and other pieces of data. All with a single click. Remember, the criminal already has your email address. There are some specific actions that can be taken: if it is a text message, notify your telephone service provider and request that the number be blocked or disabled; if it is an email message, black list the sender on your computer and notify your internet provider.

Last week saw the havoc from one of the most destructive storms on record and wild fires rage in the West. To compound the situation, Afghan refugees and displaced American citizens add to the number of those in need of assistance. Once again, con artists are attempting to take advantage of those in need due to natural and human crises while scamming good samaritans. In essence, the criminal calls or uses text and email messages to impersonate non-profits and charities. The request is made for donations and the victim is lured into providing credit card information. This scam, as well as the others mentioned here, plays on emotion and generosity but it is also one that is easy to avoid. Validate the charity by using one of the services available online: www.charitynavigator.org, www.guidestar.org, www.give.org, or other organizations that validate fundraisers. Above all, do not give out any financial information such as credit card numbers. Instead, request that you be sent a pledge card. Give only to known groups that you can validate or serve your community.

Questions, concerns? Contact me at egreenblott@aarp.org

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. – www.gnat-tv.org.