BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN
If Covid-19 hasn’t been enough of a scourge around Ottawa County for the past year, state and federal ineptitude and an army of eager scammers are making life miserable.
As the pandemic continues to rage, scammers are proliferating. And they’re becoming better at stealing from people who spend time on the Internet and have their identities stolen, look for bargains online or are careless when visiting various websites.
The Better Business Bureau of Toledo reports that a staggering 80.5% of consumers who reported online purchase scams in the last year lost money.
As businesses shut down, and people need to quarantine and socially distance, online sales have soared. So have the scams, some fueled by hacked computer systems.
Even PPE, the personal protective equipment like the masks we need to wear, is targeted. Ordered online, the odds are surprisingly high that a credit card will be debited and the goods will never arrive. If they do, they may be substandard.
People see lots offers on Facebook, Twitter or other social media for hard-to-find goods or expensive items at bargain prices. The prices were so good because products ordered were never delivered or were very cheaply made.
Scammers are disguising themselves in telephone calls , emails and texts as being from the IRS, or any number of government agencies, searching for your personal information or threatening fines or jail time if money isn’t sent for supposed crimes by using gift cards.
It might be hard to believe, but payments sought by the telephone scammers are often made by insisting victims send gift cards from a major supermarket or big box store representing a hundred different companies, from Visa and MasterCard to GooglePlay, Uber, Apple and Disney.
No legitimate government agency or company will ask for payment using gift cards. Or ask for cash in return for a finding you a work at home job, or send you a check to sign up a “mystery shopper,” or some other position, that requires you to send back some of the cash. Their check might clear at first, but online sales companies know those checks are always bogus.
Some scams are perpetrated very close to home.
If someone demands cash, hang up.
The Put-in-Bay Volunteer Fire Department this week warned the community of a phone scam claiming your Social Security number was involved in a criminal activity and would be disabled unless the resident “Pressed 1” to talk to a phony social security official, and verify personal information — which would set up people to be scammed.
Security officials constantly warn people to never answer a phone number they do not recognize. If it is a friend, family or business associate, they will leave a message. If it is a sales pitch or a request for personal information, immediately hang up.
A Port Clinton friend was hacked recently, her email redirected to the scammer and her credit card information compromised. Almost immediately, goods and services were being purchased on her credit cards. Always open bills immediately, and check for any discrepancy.
Kelly Rigonis of Northern Exposure Candle Company in Port Clinton checks her correspondence from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services when it arrives, and lately has had surprises. Three people she does not know filed for unemployment benefits, falsely filing that they worked at her shop.
Rigonis struggled to get the ODJFS on the phone, which was no surprise. The agency paid at least $330 million in fraudulent pandemic unemployment benefit claims between April and December last year, and their phone is ringing off the hook. State officials say the number of fraud cases continue to grow, and getting through on a ODJFS line is difficult.
Covid-19 and stimulus payments are being stolen or lost to identity theft. Phishing emails and texts, bogus social media posts, robocalls, and imposter schemes are rampant.
If you receive an email from anyone that includes a link, never click on the link. It most likely will take you to a scam site, which often looks authentic. If there is a link to unsubscribe from a company or sender’s emails, do not click on it.
If the email is from what looks to be your bank, a company you deal with, or even a government agency, don’t click on the link or call the telephone number. Look up the bank or agency’s number and call that number.
Regular folks don’t realize how much of their information is readily available on the internet from the many information sites. Or how hard it is to get it removed.
And, of course, use unique passwords for every site and service. Change them often.
Consumer Reports in a February article asked subscribers how difficult it was to try to have their personal information removed from the internet to protect their privacy. Most readers told Consumer Reports it is an impossible task. The search companies that offer “Arrest Records, Marriage Records, Contact Information and More!” on online sites make a living searching for everyone’s personal information.
The number of people-search sites have exploded, and so have the sites such as DeleteMe.com and OneRep.com that claim to be able expunge it. Those sites are expensive, and usually fail. Only new privacy laws can stop the the information sites.