MAGIC, CON-ARTISTS & SCAMS: HOW THE OLD BECOMES NEW AGAIN
Since I was a child, I have always loved watching magicians perform magic tricks. There’s nothing more fascinating than when career-magicians like Penn & Teller flawlessly use misdirection, math, physics and slight of hand to pull off the seemingly extraordinary.
As you get older, you realize that in any profession, career or skill, there are about 50 common formulas or rules that get used over and over again – often in very creative ways.
Penn & Teller in particular are very, very good. Often the smartest of engineers, scientists and even other magicians can’t figure out how they perform some of their tricks, despite watching every move of the trick intently.
In my world of private investigation, I most often deal with con-artists that have taken advantage of good people. In general, many people have a false sense of confidence that they are too smart to be taken by scams and cons. Most know enough to avoid Three-card Monte. Most know there are no Nigerian princes out there that want to give them millions of dollars (in exchange for a bit of information or money first). Even so, we still get quite a few calls every week from people throughout the United States that want our assistance in getting funds back that they have sent to Nigeria or other countries. (This is known as a 419 scam or Advance Fee Fraud.)
Like magic, the misdirection involved in some cons is quite sophisticated, and you need to up your game and improve your street smarts if you want to come out on top.
As you get older, you realize that in any profession, career or skill, there are about 50 common formulas or rules that get used over and over again – often in very creative ways. Some of the most popular cons out there right now are simply variants on classic cons that have been around for many years. This post takes a look at some of these cons, and how to avoid getting taken by them.
Computer cons are popular because they can reach a very wide base of potential marks, and only need a few people to fall for them to still be successful. Email is the preferred method of outreach because it it is relatively inexpensive to spam. Our world is becoming increasingly effected by insecure passwords that are guessed by programs, and information that is obtained by intrusion into private databases that we assumed were secure in the first place. Russian hackers recently took more than 1.2 billion passwords using this method.
Ever receive an email from a friend or trusted source that didn’t seem right? Memorial services, funerals, out-of-the-blue password reset requests, random security verification requests, and emails that appear to be coming from friends or family? Emails with a single link in them?
What happens is that when you click on that link, you download malware to your computer, or take the first step in a scam designed to steal your identity: personal information, passwords, bank information, and more. These types of thefts all of the time.
Don’t open email attachments unless you requested the attachment specifically.
Never open .zip or .exe file attachments. In fact, make your email program block these attachments if possible.
Never click on links in email – unless you specifically requested that email.
Create safer passwords. Don’t share passwords with anyone. Use the different passwords for every account you have.
On the streets, on the phone, or via email, the strong-arm approach uses the power of intimidation and hiding behind faux authority to make you fear for your freedom or your personal safety. For example, someone might call posing as an attorney and tell you that you need to pay a certain amount of money or face collections. They tell you that you don’t have any time to waste, and that this is your last opportunity to settle this old and forgotten debt.
Recently, there has been a popular scam going around involving fake IRS agents that call marks, demanding payments to settle unpaid taxes, under the threat of jail time.
I think the worst con artists are the ones that come out anytime there is a big disaster. They are so aggressive that they come to your door under the guise of collecting for the charity. They send emails asking you to donate to organizations that probably doesn’t exist in the first place.
Recently, I posted about how the popularity of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has inspired a number of fake ALS charities.
Make charitable donations directly to reputable organizations – never a middle man.
Do your homework
If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. I always advise people to do their homework before giving away their hard-earned money.
With my private investigative firm, our clients have us performed detailed background checks on individuals or organizations before they make important deals, purchases, or partnerships. You’d be surprised at what pops up, and what we help them avoid.
Toward that end, you you might want to bookmark the following sites. You can educate yourself immediately on all the scams that are being perpetrated on the public and be pre-warned when they come knocking at your door.
- The FBI’s list of common fraud schemes.
- FTC Complaint Assistant – Report fraud or scams.
- USA.gov’s Consumer Frauds and Scams – How to protect yourself against consumer frauds and scams.
- Snopes – The definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.
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