As we slowly make our way out of the pandemic, more and more people are looking to go back to work. While we may have been able to practice our art throughout the worst of the pandemic, and even played an essential part in helping ourselves and everyone else make it through, many of us lost day jobs, side jobs, and those opportunities to practice our art that came with a steady paycheck.
Regrettably, it’s not just Utica area artists who are heading back to work. Scammers see the gradual return to the life we were used to before as a new job opportunity as well. Here are just a few of the most common scams to target job seekers in the summer of 2021.
Academic or job training funding
Going back to school to earn a new degree or learn a new trade is a popular first leg of a “back to work” journey. As the recent quarantine and isolation has given many of us increased time for prayer and reflection, many have come to realize they need a change in the way they earn their living. They may decide to branch off into a new area of the job they do by day, prepare for a promotion, or veer off into a completely different career path, but none of those options is likely to come without a significant investment.
Most need some type of financial aid to cover the cost, and this can present yet another hurdle. Financial aid searches can be daunting and frustrating, with every program seeming to disqualify everybody over a single detail. It may be tempting to respond to organizations promising to streamline the process for you by taking your information, and producing a list of financial aid options tailored to you, for a small fee.
These are never legitimate offers. The same information is already available online for free. Sending in your money will only result in the company you hired disappearing, or at best, sending you a list you could have gotten yourself simply by typing “financial aid” into a search engine.
If a financial aid search is too daunting, visit the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend for help.
Fake Zoom Meeting Invitation
During the worst of the pandemic, we all grew accustomed to conducting face to face meetings, visits, and job interviews via video calls on sites like Zoom. While the offline, shared physical space version of in-person gatherings are slowly increasing, many find that virtual interviews and meetings are still a necessity for anyone who has not been vaccinated, as well as those who are, but may not be able to travel to get to an interview, or who may be dealing with other health problems that would necessitate avoiding close contact with strangers indoors.
This can make an invitation to a Zoom job interview or virtual job fair seem completely legitimate, and sometimes, they can be. But do some research before you click on that link.
Real invitations to gatherings held via Zoom come from the host of the event, not from Zoom itself. If you get an invitation to a Zoom employment event, write down the name of the sender, click out of your email, and research that sender to make sure it’s a legitimate company or organization. If you find a webpage, physical address, email address, and a phone number listed, that’s a good sign, but you are still not finished. Step two is to reach out to the company using their contact information, to make sure that they did in fact send you a Zoom meeting invitation.
Clicking on a Zoom meeting invitation link when you are not completely sure it was sent by a trusted person or business can result in malware being installed on your computer. This malware can be used to access your personal information, including your bank accounts.
Cryptocurrency investment scams
One unfortunate economic lesson of the pandemic is that a lot of paying jobs can vanish pretty fast. This leads many of us to work to secure passive income in addition to looking for a new paying job.
Investment opportunities vary, but the latest fad in the “how to make money” community is investing in cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrency is a form of digital currency that only exists on computers. It can be compared to a casino chip or other token, but there is no physical object. The currency is made up entirely of computer code that is passed from person to person. There is no central computer that holds it all, and it is not backed up by any government or banking system.
The money advice website nerdwallet warns that because there is nothing backing it up, cryptocurrency is volatile, prone to extreme rises and falls in value from day to day. However, if you want to invest in cryptocurrency, or learn more about the option, make sure to stick to the websites of established investment firms that offer the form of cryptocurrency that interests you. Any other offer, website, or “opportunity” is likely to be a scam. Like the scholarship scam, these sites may charge for information or coaching that can be obtained free through an established investment firm, or they may be selling cryptocurrency they do not actually have and pocketing your money.
Travel scams are such “classic” scams, they’re a running joke in American popular culture. Who hasn’t seen a comedy in which a hapless, lovably naive character goes crazy over winning a dream vacation for a small processing fee or finding “the deal of a lifetime”? Cut to the next scene, and they’re gazing helplessly at the “L.A. Beach vacation” that turns out to be a skid row hotel room with a pile of sand dumped on the floor, or the “New York City arts tour” that only results in a bus dropping them off an at abandoned gallery in a crime-ridden neighborhood and driving away.
These types of scams are back with a vengeance now that people are once again traveling, both as a way to give themselves a break after the year we’ve all gone through and for work. And these new versions are often much harder to detect than the obvious “too good to be true” offers from the past.
One common tactic is the use of a spoofed website. These sites are carefully designed to look like the official website of real travel sites. Some of them even feature stolen recordings from the real sites.
The best defense against these types of scams is to go directly to a well-known, established travel website, or give a local agency some business and contact someone who specializes in booking travel in town.
Job searching this summer is difficult enough. Businesses complain nobody wants to work, but potential workers are actually sifting through positions that do not pay enough to cover even their basic expenses. Nothing can prevent substandard employment offers, but we can avoid the outright scams.
There seems to be a fresh crop of everything in the spring. It brings new flowers, vegetables, colors, academic semesters, plans….and scams.
While we are all alert and vigilant enough to see right through these, it is important to keep them in mind in order to help a family member or friend who may be vulnerable due to the impaired judgment or mental fog that can be a side effect of the increased isolation, job stress, financial stress, and other issues we have all been coping with over the past thirteen months.
Here are just a few of the most common fake claims circulating online this season.
Get additional funds added to your 2021 stimulus payment
According to a March 12, 2021 article by the Better Business Bureau, scammers are sending out email and text messages designed to look as though they are from the government. These messages state or imply that you may be able to get additonal direct deposits, checks, or pre-paid debit cards with additional stimulus funds, and invite you to click on a link and enter your information “to ensure that you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to receive.” Once you click on the link, the form that appears on your screen asks for the standard information you would enter on a government form.
Do not click this link or fill out any forms. The contact information, and the screen belong to the scammer, who can then use your personal information to commit identity theft. The scammer may also demand a “processing fee” for money they claim you can collect, or install spyware on your computer that grants them access to your banking information.
Use your stimulus money…or any money you have…to help a friend or family member
The stimulus checks are a means for many of us to help others who may have fallen on financially difficult times over the past year, and the scammers are all too aware of this. This scam appears to be particularly popular on “WhatsApp,” an instant messenger app intended to be used to keep in touch with friends and family. However, the scam can occur anywhere you send and receive messages from people.
Scammers create an account that appears to belong to someone already on your contact list, and message you. Posing as your friend or family member, the scammer claims to need money in an emergency situation.
Always reach out to your friend via a known social media account, email address, phone number, or in person to verify that it is indeed them contacting you before you send any money or contribute to any fundraisers at their urging.
Get a great deal on that item you need for your spring project
The plain old rip off is far from a new scam. People have been selling fake items and passing off substandard versions of the items in ads before everyone on earth today was even born. The internet just makes it especially easy to gather and post misleading images and videos. And the arrival of the latest stimulus checks, coupled with the feelings of hope and renewal everyone is clinging to this spring, makes it especially attractive to scammers right now. They know a lot of people are spending some of their stimulus money, and they know it’s a time for projects and plans.
Meet anyone you encounter in an online marketplace in a well-lit, public space before accepting any goods from them, or giving them any money, and never go to the meeting alone. Remember that you have the right to examine the item before accepting it, and are not obligated to take anything wrapped in packaging, or to make the exchange quickly. If the seller is in that big of a hurry, they can take the item back home with them and re-schedule the meeting for a more relaxed time.
When ordering online, resist pop up ads on social media. No matter where you see the ad, close the site down, open a new tab, and type in the webpage of a known, trusted retailer that sells the item.
Here’s an easy way to improve your finances after quarantine, or save up for that dream vacation this summer
It’s no secret that a lot of us are not doing our best financially right now. Performing artists haven’t been able to get many gigs, visual artists have faced galleries closed for months, and fewer people have the cash to buy albums, novels, and films. Many of us have lost day jobs and second careers as well. This can make the red flags of a job scam easy to overlook.
Today’s most popular version of the job scam is even easier to fall for, as scammers often join legitimate job sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, posing as recruiters or hiring managers for legitimate, well-known companies. The hoax can be rather elaborate, including entire websites that appear to belong to corporations we have all heard of, such as General Electric, Microsoft, or Facebook.
Avoid these scams using the same tactic you use to avoid purchasing goods from a scam site. Click all the way out of the site. Open up a new tab, and go directly to the official site of the company in question. Search their page for their “careers” or “employment” link, and check there for the job listing. If you still are not sure, contact human resources at the company.
Welcome a new pet into your family
During the height of the quarantine, pet adoptions soared as people adopted pets to combat loneliness. Some of these adoptions resulted in the pet finding his or her forever home. Others ended with the pet being abandoned or returned. Current pet scammers are playing on the desire of true animal lovers to rescue these pets. Another common avenue is to join online groups for specific breed enthusiasts, claiming to have a dog who just had purebred or popular mixed breed puppies early this spring.
Overly staged or “perfect” photos, showing just the puppies or kittens on a pure white or pink background, or in a logo, are a strong giveaway, but don’t be swayed by more realistic looking photos, with someone’s carpet, TV, pillows, or even family members or other pets in the shot or in the background. The scammer could genuinely have the animal or litter, but just have no intention of parting with them after receiving your money, or they could be “selling” puppies from a litter that have already found homes. And it is much too easy to steal other peoples’ candid photos from various social media sites.
It is best to adopt a pet through a local humane society or established breed rescue organization, or through someone you already know well and trust offline, but if you feel strongly about a pet you see online, do your research before becoming attached, and never give anyone any money until you have the pet with you physically. The sadness of being drawn to a pet you have only seen online and finding out it was a scam is going to be a lot easier to cope with than that same feeling coupled with the loss of your money.
Scammers regularly create new scams, or reinvent or rejuvenate old ones when the time seems right for them to be particularly effective again. Keeping updated on what’s making the rounds is the first step in keeping you and your friends and family from becoming a scammer’s latest success story.
Romance scams, also known as “catfish scams,” are the central theme in the novel “Chatting as Adalee.” They are also part of the plot in the second novel featuring Heidi from “Chatting,” as she becomes a support person and advocate for other victims. Reaching out is a first step, but there are also a few things to keep in mind as you help a friend or family member heal over time.
The person will go back and forth over whether or not the relationship was real.
This can be frustrating. You think they understand that what they went through was a scam, and not a real relationship. They seem to have accepted that the one they thought they loved was not real, or at least was not completely real. Then they reference the time they were “dating” that person.
Remind them as gently as possible that what they’re talking about was a scam. Never play along with the idea that the relationship was in any way real, but resist the urge to correct them harshly, laugh it off, or tease them about it. Your friend may have spent months or even years believing the relationship to be genuine.
Your friend may shed some beneficial habits or practices.
Being scammed is never a good thing. But sometimes people develop good habits or practices in an attempt to impress the person they thought they were with, or prepare for a new life they thought they would soon have. They may have begun studying a language the scammer claimed to speak, altering their appearance in a way that makes them feel more confident, saving up money, or doing more reading or studying or looking for a better job.
It can be a bit jarring when the person abandons these things as they accept they have been scammed. Keep their best interests in mind, but don’t fight them on it. Don’t encourage them to blow their entire savings account, but don’t lecture them when they realize they don’t need to save up to buy a house after all, or stop looking for a better job when the only reason they were doing so was to get money for the scammer. They need to let go of things they took on for the scam.
Expect extremes in attitudes about romance, crushes, and dating.
Once someone realizes and accepts they have been the victim of a romance scam, they often show extreme feelings about romance for a while. Some people want nothing to do with it. They do not want to meet your other single friends of the appropriate gender and orientation to date them, go out in a group, or be flirted with by anyone. In some cases, they do not even care to hear about others’ relationships or even celebrity crushes. Others become fixated on it, wanting to get out there and find a real relationship to replace the fake one right away. Both of these are normal and expected reactions.
Anger or concern for people in stolen photographs or invented stories is normal in the beginning, but should lessen over time.
Even the most levelheaded person will be somewhat disoriented and confused when they first realize they’ve been scammed. Many people struggle to accept that they never were talking to the person in photos stolen by the scammer, or that children, exes, siblings, pets, or parents in the stories they told either didn’t exist, or were very different people in reality. Your friend might express a wish to find and tell off the person in the photo, or wistfully wonder how a child or pet the scammer talked about is doing now. Gently remind them that the person in the photo had nothing to do with the scam, and had no idea their photo was even being used. Further remind them that characters in scammer stories are just that, characters, even if the scammer based them on real people in their own lives or stolen stories. As time goes on, they will learn to accept these truths.
Healing happens differently for everyone.
The healing process is going to vary depending on a wide number of factors. Most of the time, people who spent a shorter time believing they were in a relationship with someone who turned out to be a scammer are going to heal faster. Those with a lot of real friends and supportive family members may need less time. Confident people, secure in who they are, tend to move past the experience of being scammed relatively quickly. On the other hand, those who were enmeshed with the scammer for several months or even years, people with few meaningful relationships, and those who lack confidence or who have a tendency to try to be what other people want or expect rather than themselves tend to take longer. Mental health care needs vary as well, ranging from a few weeks of self-directed learning about the issue of romance scams and a little time to themselves, to regular therapy with a professional.
The wish to confront the scammer/catfish is normal. Actually attempting to do so is potentially dangerous.
MTV’s popular series “Catfish” serves others well in publicizing romance scams, educating the audience about some of the signs of romance scams, and making the public understand that romance scammers, or catfish, to use the term coined by the show’s founder, Nev Schulman, can be from the United States, or even someone the victim already knows offline. Before the show, many people believed romance scammers only existed in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Russia, where organized scam rings are based.
However, the show does an even bigger disservice by sending the message that American romance scammers are just ordinary people lacking in social skills, everyday oddballs who will make great friends if someone just sits them down, explains what they’re doing is wrong, and gives them a chance to be a real friend.
Romance scams are carried out for a variety of reasons. American scammers may be after the victim’s money, or trying to trick them into doing something illegal, as the Nigerian scammers are. Or they might be running their scams in order to lure victims for violent crime, including rape and murder. The hosts and producers of “Catfish” display alarming naivete when they check in with the scammer at the end of the show or encourage the victim to build a friendship with the scammer. The person has already been proven to be a scammer, and they are well aware that they’re surrounded by a film crew and about to be broadcast on cable television and streaming services. Nobody…including the people who make the show…have any idea what that person would have done if they’d been confronted by the victim, or the victim and a small group of their friends, alone. And they have no idea if the scammer is telling the truth about changing their ways.
Reach out to the appropriate professional if your friend harms, or expresses a wish to harm, themselves or others.
Self-harm, plans or wishes to harm themselves, and abuse of pets, children, or adult friends or relatives living in the home are not a normal and expected part of the healing process from a scam or anything else. Never brush even the slightest incident off as your friend just venting, or something that will never happen again. Contact the appropriate authorities, just as you would if the situation involved someone who is not healing from a romance scam.
Coping with the fight against Covid-19 wears us all down. In addition to the public health crisis, those in the arts must deal with cancelled and postponed performances, moving from in-person staging to online video feeds, and reduced sales of books, albums, and videos as those who ordinarily would buy from us struggle to even pay their bills. And then we have our own struggles with finances to contend with.
All of this added stress leaves even the most worldly, wise, and aware among us more susceptible to scams. We are particularly vulnerable to scams that prey on our desire to get rid of Covid-19 and return to our normal lives, and those that take advantage of the loneliness we feel. Scammers are well aware of this, and plan their scams accordingly. Keep your guard up against these latest Covid-19 related hoaxes.
Get the Covid-19 vaccine early scam
We all understand the importance of vaccinating the most vulnerable members of our population first. Those in the healthcare field should be vaccinated first, as they are the most likely to be exposed to Covid-19. Since the most severe, and often the deadliest, clusters have been in nursing homes and other assisted living environments, residents and staff should of course be vaccinated before less vulnerable populations. But we all wish the whole process could speed up a bit, and everyone could get vaccinated right away.
Scammers play on this wish by offering you the opportunity to get the vaccine early, for a fee. You may see an ad on social media claiming a private company or group has the vaccine for sale. Or you may get a text, call, email, or other message offering you the opportunity to receive the vaccine ahead of schedule, or to be put on a list to receive it ahead of schedule, for a small fee.
Never respond to any of these offers. There is no way to get the vaccine early, no matter how much money you pay or who you pay it to. True, accurate and free information about the Covid-19 vaccine in our community and who will be vaccinated next can be found through state and local departments of public health.
The “grandparents” scam
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has been warning of this scam for several years, but it is increasingly popular among scammers today, as Covid-19 prevention efforts lead to longer and longer periods of solitude for people who normally see adult children and grandchildren regularly. The scam can be run on anyone who shares information about their family and friends on social media, but it is called the “grandparents” scam because the most common targets are grandparents, with the scammer posing as one of their grandchildren.
To run this hoax, the scammer first scours Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts looking for phone numbers and the names of grandchildren. Next, the scammer phones the target pretending to be the grandchild. They may use software that makes it look like the call is coming from the grandchild’s phone, or pretend to be borrowing someone else’s phone because theirs is lost or damaged. The scammer, posing as the grandchild, claims to be in some kind of trouble. They may say they are in jail, lost, or in need of money to pay a bill or a fine. If the grandparent notices that the person on the phone’s voice does not sound like the grandchild they claim to be, a bad connection, illness, stress, or background noise is blamed. The scammer may also call claiming to be the grandchild’s lawyer or other authority figure, making the request on their behalf.
Once the grandparent agrees to send the money to help, they are instructed to purchase a gift card and call back with the code, wire money, send money via an online app, share account information, or send cash in the mail. This money goes to the scammer, with the real grandchild completely unaware the call was ever made, and the grandparent tricked out of their money.
Anyone who receives a call from a grandchild or other loved one asking for money should immediately hang up and contact the person through a known and trusted method. Should the phone call turn out to be genuine, the real loved one will understand.
Help getting your second stimulus payment scam
Many of us could really use that $600 currently scheduled to arrive in our checking or savings accounts, but not everyone has gotten their payment yet. Those who have fallen behind on bills are especially anxious, but even those of us who have been able to manage financially are feeling the strain of increasing grocery bills as children and spouses who used to be out of the house all day are now eating all their lunches and snacks at home, higher electric bills as everyone is working from home all day, and other unanticipated expenses related to preventing the spread of Covid-19.
This anxiety leaves us open to scammers posing as government agents offering to help get our stimulus payment to us right away, for a small processing fee. The scammer calls, emails, texts, or messages the target on social media, posing as someone from the government and making the offer. Once the person is convinced they are speaking to someone from the government, the scammer then asks for the potential victim’s banking information in order to process the payment.
In reality, tax information already on file with the IRS is used to process and deposit the stimulus payments, and there is never a fee. Hang up on, or delete and block, anyone who claims you need to pay to process your stimulus payment.
Most of us see ourselves as too smart, sophisticated, or careful to fall for scams like these. But anyone can have a moment of weakness brought on by stress, fatigue, or illness. Most scammers practice their scams the way we practice writing or singing or playing the guitar, and are experts at playing on our vulnerabilities and emotions. And even if you are one who can see through any scammer that comes your way, keep these scams in mind to help protect loved ones who may be more vulnerable.
As artists, we probably know what it’s like to struggle financially. This can be especially true around the holidays, leading many of us to want to give to others who may also be struggling this year. Generosity is always something to cultivate in yourself. Never become so cynical or hardened that you simply refuse to give. Just take a moment to make sure you’re giving to someone or something that is truly going to help others.
Holiday season scams are nothing new. The ones you remember from past years are sure to be back. But here are the ones that seem especially active as the Christmas season officially begins.
Secret Santa/Secret Sisters
Secret Sisters, sometimes billed as “Secret Santa Sisters” or a similar name, is a new twist on the same old gift exchange pyramid scheme. The message or post invites you to combat the loneliness brought on by the fight against Covid-19 by adding your name to a gift exchange list. You buy a small, thoughtful gift for the person whose name you get, and everyone who gets your name will send you something in turn. But only the people who started it actually receive the gifts. These items can then be sold by the people running the pyramid scheme for a profit.
Those who truly want to bless a stranger this holiday season should instead contact local non-profit organizations, or speak to someone at their place of worship about participating in an “angel tree” or similar program. These types of programs allow those in need to sign up to receive gifts for themselves, their elderly relatives, or their children this Christmas. Those who would like to give gifts can receive information such as gender, age, clothing sizes, wish lists, and favorite colors, and purchase an appropriate gift for the recipient.
Help Me Help Others
The scam starts out as a social media challenge. The scammer claims they are raising funds to bless others. One post seen around social media asked people to send money to a personal Cashapp account so that the account owner could give servers and bartenders hundreds of dollars in tips. Another asked friends and family to send them money to buy products from a multilevel marketing company they sold for, with the promise that they would use the cash to order children’s products from their company and distribute them at a hospital. Of course, there is no guarantee the recipient of your funds will use them in the way they claim, and if they’re soliciting cash donations from strangers, it is likely they will not. The honest way to do this would be to get an online group together, set a goal, and challenge everyone to give enough directly to the people they are blessing to meet that goal. There is absolutely no reason why you should have to filter your cash donation through an individual.
Anyone who wants to give servers especially large tips can give the extra cash directly to the server or delivery person of their choice. People who feel called to make a cash donation to help kids in a hospital can just as easily contact an area hospital and arrange to make a donation as give it to a random person and hope that person isn’t planning to pocket the money.
Social Media Coupons and Deals
Getting your holiday shopping going while browsing your social media may be tempting. It is especially enticing when the ad that just popped up offers you such an amazing deal on a product at a famous retailer. Never click on these, no matter how much a loved one would like the item pictured, how good the deal, or how busy you are right now. These ads are almost always scams, with links that take you to sites designed to be mistaken for the web page of a well-known, legitimate retail establishment. Amazon and Target are just two pages scammers have basically cloned.
Online holiday shopping should always begin and end directly on the known, trusted site of your favorite store. Any coupons or deals they offer will be on their site. If you see a deal on another site, contact the store’s customer service department from the known and trusted site and ask them if the offer is genuine.
Pet adoption scams surged during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as scammers realized an increase in isolation and loneliness would lead to an increase in the demand for pets. As we face a holiday season destined to feature a lot more time alone or with a very small group than we had anticipated or hoped for, pet adoption scammers are back at it, targeting lonely people, animal lovers, and parents and grandparents hoping to brighten Christmas for the chidlren in their family. Adorable puppies or kittens are for sale from what looks like the Facebook or Instagram page of a reputable breeder. Or someone’s pet has unexpectedly given birth, and the babies are available for a “rehoming fee.” Sometimes, the pet is presented as a rescue in need of a home.
The safest way to adopt a pet is through your local animal rescue organization. If you feel called to adopt a pet from an individual, never part with any cash until your new pet is with you, offline and in person. Stealing other peoples’ pet photos, including photos of new litters, is as easy as stealing any other type of photo online. And never settle for a meeting via Zoom or other in person but online environment. The person could still claim your pet ran away or passed away between the day you sent them your money and the day you were scheduled to receive the pet.
MLM Sales Pitches Disguised as Need
This one pops up in groups intended to get and receive help. Someone will create a post inviting members to announce something they need, in the hope that another member will be able to help them out. Most of the responses will address legitimate needs. Of course, some people may talk about things many of us would consider a “want,” but everyone is doing what they are invited to do, mention something they would purchase if they only had the funds. Some post about needing a job.
Then there are posts with pleas such as “To do well with my business so I can have a better life.” Responses to questions about the business always consist of “PM’d you” or “sent you a message” instead of an answer in public online space. Responding to these messages will get you nothing more than a sales pitch from someone who has signed up to sell for an MLM, or multilevel marketing company. The person may even try to convince you to pay to sign up to sell the products under them.
Always pay close attention to who you are communicating with online, and never agree to or sign anything simply because someone seems desperate for you to do so. It is up to each of us who we wish to help out, but make sure you are helping someone you genuinely wish to help, and are not being manipulated or pressured into something you do not support.
Never let the presence of these scams discourage you from blessing others. Just take an extra minute to step back and make sure things are as they seem.
Read this article and I'll Cashapp You $500...and other things that won't happen: A look at the latest money making scams
,Covid-19 has forced us to practice our art a bit differently. Gatherings and outings are of course, much smaller and more spread out, and audience reaction is difficult to read due to the presence of face masks. Much of our presentation and performance is moved online. We are alone much more than usual. Many of us have lost our day jobs or seen our workload and therefore pay, greatly reduced. The stress of all this can leave us more susceptible to scams based on our desire to be financially secure, alleviate loneliness, or even stand up for others. Here are three that are especially common both online and offline today.
Cashapp cash for simple tasks/famous product promotion offer posts
Whether you’re in a group to promote your art, work on your side hustle, network for your day job, or indulge in a hobby, you have no doubt seen the posts offering money through Cashapp for completing simple tasks anyone could do. Announcements like “I’ll send $500 to anyone who can type “dOg” or “I have $250 for anyone who can come up with a woman’s name that begins and ends with an ‘A.’” are common. Whenever someone responds, they are met with “Congratulations, click on this trusted link for more information.”
Most of us can clearly see this is a scam, though there have been a surprising number of people responding with the answer to the scammer’s question. Make sure to remind friends and relatives that any money making opportunity that seems much too easy is going to be a scam. And while we know it’s a scam, it may be tempting to click on the link with the goal of telling them off, or reporting the account for fraud.
This is still a mistake. Clicking on the link for any reason is going to open up your computer to spyware. The link contains a virus that allows the scammers access to your computer. This means they can access your social media accounts, any bank accounts or credit card accounts you have accessed through your computer, and other personal information. The scammers can then do anything from open credit cards in your name, drain your bank accounts, and use your credit cards to use your email contacts to run additional scams.
Another, more subtle tactic used by the same scammers begins with a simple question. They might say, “If Coca-Cola offered to pay you $300 per week to post an ad on your car, would you go for it?” These are a little easier to become entangled in, as they can appear to be a survey for someone’s article or academic paper at first glance. Again, avoid clicking on any posted links, as they likely contain spyware. You may also receive a message offering you the “job” advertising the famous product for a small processing fee, but even clicking on the link just to see what’s going on opens you up to identity theft.
Pet adoption scams
Pet adoption scams have been around for a while, but are increasingly seen in groups for pet parents these days. Pet adoptions have increased due to the isolation and loneliness brought on by the recent quarantine and reduced chances for social interaction brought on by Covid-19. Like all tragedies, scammers are here to take advantage of the bad times of others.
This scam may be “classic,” but it is easy to fall for, as emotions may get the better of our logic at this time. The scam itself is simple. The scammer joins a group for fans of parrots or pugs or Chihuahuas or Siamese cats. They find cute pictures of everyone’s beloved animal on the internet, save them, and then post them as their own, with an announcement that the animal in the photo is for sale or adoption, with a “rehoming” fee.
Of course, there is no pet for sale or adoption. The scammer pockets the money, and posts the same pictures offering the same pets to others in different groups.
The best way to avoid this scam is to only adopt pets through dedicated pet adoption organizations, like the local humane society, or from individuals that you already know and trust. If you must adopt a pet from a stranger, and you do not know anyone who can vouch for them, make it an absolute rule that you will not part with any money until you have the pet with you in person.
Face mask exemption cards
None of us enjoy wearing face masks. Some are making the best of it, using our face masks to promote important causes or express ourselves with favorite sports teams logos, fun patterns and prints, or meaningful phrases. But even the meaningful or fun ones make our faces sweat and render every in- person social interaction a bit awkward.
Many people feel their experience of wearing a mask goes beyond mild discomfort. They believe they should not have to wear one, and may purchase “face mask exemption cards” to allow them to enter businesses and other public places and spaces without wearing a face covering. These are not real. The logos that appear to be from the Department of Justice or the Americans with Disabilities Act were copied, and not licensed by the government. No matter how much the person paid for the card, they cannot sue you or your business or organization for denying them entry without a mask. The cardholder was scammed when they purchased the card, and you are being tricked if you believe you must allow them to enter without a mask simply because they have one. If someone could sue you for insisting they wear a mask to eat in your restaurant, shop in your store, or attend your event, then people could also walk into businesses shirtless and shoeless and sue anyone who asked them to leave.
Keep making art. Keep working. And let’s look out for ourselves, and for each other.
Previously, Artist Cafe Utica reported on the warning signs a friend might be communicating with a romance scammer (catfish) online. These include excessive or unwarranted secrecy, changes in mood, changes in interests, financial changes, and more. (See “Ten Signs a Friend or Family Member is Involved in a Romance Scam” for details).
Noticing a cluster of signs that could indicate the prescence of a romance scammer, or catfish, in their lives is troubling. But there are ways to reach out.
Start a general conversation about relationships and/or meeting people online first.
Begin by sharing as much as you are comfortable with about your own life or that of someone you both know. This doesn’t mean start gossiping or spreading rumors. Mention a new restaurant a coworker told you she and her husband like to order from, or talk about a drive you took with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and let the conversation flow naturally. Gently note when they seem secretive or hesitate to tell you anything.
“When I mentioned that he paid for the dinner and I paid for the drinks, you didn’t say anything about the guy you’re talking to. Does he seem like an extravagent spender?” is more likely to generate further conversation than, “Why’d you look away when I mentioned money? Are you hiding something?”
The goal is to get the person to open up a little, and talk a bit about the relationship they may be forming online. Scolding, mocking, or belittling them is not going to help you reach that goal.
Do your best to have a face to face conversation.
If it is safe to do so, put on a mask, make sure your friend or relative has a mask, and have the conversation in person. If someone in either of your houses is in quarantine, or someone is frail, sick, or otherwise unable to risk any exposure to anyone outside their own household, or if your friend is far away, meet via Zoom or Skype. Text chatting is great in many situations, but you may miss facial expressions or body language that hold important cues.
If a face to face call or visit isn’t possible, try talking on the phone to allow yourself to pick up voice cues. When text chat is your only option, choose a time when both of you can sit and chat uninterrupted.
When the time comes to bring up the subject of catfishing/romance scamming directly, target your approach to the individual.
You know your friend or family member. Some people are more receptive to the direct approach. They’ll listen better if you flat out say, “That sounds like a catfish.” Other people need to discuss the issue in general and come to their own conclusion. Still others need to be guided gently. Do what you know will get a thoughtful response out of your friend, not what you saw someone do on MTV’s “Catfish” or “Dr. Phil” or anywhere else that addresses the issue.
Don’t give up if your friend seems a bit different, or reacts differently than you had hoped.
Romance scammers brainwash their victims. Your friend is under the influence of someone who has carefully isolated them, if only mentally, and fed them the narrative they want them to believe. The one you’re concerned for may lash out, dismiss your concerns, or behave as though you’re being silly, because the scammer has them convinced the two of them have a special bond others would not understand. Keep talking to them. Your words may not seem to have an impact now, but the person may remember them later.
Use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to get others involved.
Just like your approach, this depends on the friend or family member, your relationship with them, and the relationship between them and anyone you want to bring in to help. You also want to make sure anyone you involve is going to help the situation, not make it worse. We all have those friends or relatives we love, but know better than to call on in a crisis.
Speak up immediately and do all you can to stop them if your loved one is planning to send money, send expensive gifts, accept a shipment, or ship packages for their new online love.
This is a classic characteristic of an overseas, organized scam ring. Getting people to give them money or pricey items, or accept or help send boxes full of stolen goods or other illegal materials is the only true goal of the scam. Even if your friend has verified that the person is indeed in the United States, or the country they claim to be in, they could still be running a money or illegal goods scam.
Never encourage confronting or hunting down a suspected scammer.
MTV’s “Catfish” does a good service in making its audience aware of the red flags of romance scams, and in taking away some of the shame of being targeted by a scammer. But it does an even bigger disservice to its audience by sending the message that the “catfish” or scammer, is always just a socially awkward person who needs a second chance, or a lovable but slightly narcissistic prankster who needs to learn a little respect for other people. In most cases, this is far from the truth.
The scammers who get caught on “Catfish” are surrounded by a camera crew and security team, and they know it. They are fully aware that they will be seen on national television. It is in their interest to come across as harmless, awkward, and just in need of a few new friends and new interests. Nobody knows what that person is going to do once they’re no longer being watched, or if they’re telling the truth in the follow up. And nobody could predict what that person might do if their target and a friend, or even their target, a friend, Nev Schulman, and one other person showed up alone, as it appears on screen.
There is no way to know what you might be walking into or who you might be meeting. Never go after a suspected scammer.
No matter what, stick with your friend.
Writing the person off may be tempting, especially if they are especially secretive, argumentative, condescending, or otherwise unwilling to listen to anyone who reaches out to them. Remain their friend anyway. Once they emerge from the cloud of the scam, they will need the people who cared enough to speak out in the first place.
The topic of romance scams forms the plot and theme of my second novel, Chatting as Adalee. Romance scams, and other types of internet scams, are also of particular concern for artists, as we present and promote our work online more and more in the current climate.
Welcome back to our special series on internet romance and other social scams. Today we examine ten signs a friend or family member might be involved with a scammer.
Even if you are not meeting new people online, you probably know someone who uses online dating or other sites designed to help others meet new people. The following ten signs can be used to craft a character in a play, song, poem, movie, or novel, but they can also be present in the life of your very real friend or family member. When looking for these signs, remember that they should appear in a cluster, and that they are signs. Someone who has fallen in love with a real and genuine person online will also display many of these behaviors. They should be used to start a conversation with your friend or family member, not make up your mind that whoever they are communicating with is a scammer.
Your friend's internet habits have changed to a noticeable degree.
Increased internet usage is probably the first thing that springs to mind. If your friend was never that interested in spending large amounts of time online before, but is now spending hours logged in, they may be getting sucked in by a scammer.
Look for changes in the way the person behaves online. Someone being manipulated by a scammer might chat with people they know offline less, or spend less time shopping or playing games or watching YouTube videos in favor of a chat app or dating site.
Decreased internet use may also be a red flag for a scam situation. Many scammers snare their victims on a dating site, chat room, health care web site, or Facebook, but immediately want to move the communication to texting and instant messaging. Your friend could appear absent from the internet because he has created a new messenger account and/or taken to spending entire days texting from his phone.
Scammers are present on almost every site that allows communication between new people. Take note any time your friend seems to have become unusually devoted to a certain site, whether that be an explicit, adult oriented site, a clean chat room, a dating web site, or a forum for people suffering from certain disorders. There may be other reasons for their focus on this site, but they may also be using it to communicate with a scammer.
He or she seems especially happy for no apparent reason.
This is not to suggest that everybody in a good mood is the victim of an online romance scammer. Watch out for sudden, unexplained improvements in the mood of someone who has been lonely, isolated, depressed, or simply bored with their current circumstances, especially if that person has taken up online dating or begun communicating with new people online in any way. The dramatically improved mood could be stemming from the belief that they have met the man or woman of their dreams. In many cases, the dream man or woman will turn out to be a character crafted by a scammer or group of scammers.
The person has gotten uncharacteristically secretive about his or her online friends, phone calls, or texts.
Romance scammers often manipulate their victims into social isolation by pretending to be people who want secrecy in the relationship. One American chat room scammer demanded that "his girlfriend" not tell anyone the two of them were a couple in any form. He insisted that this was because he was a very private person, and because he wanted his mother to be the first person in his life to know about his new love. The women who believed themselves to be his girlfriends were to tell others in the chat room that the two of them were just friends, and to avoid mentioning him at all to anyone they knew offline.
Further scammer tactics include insisting that the family, group of friends, or other staff members at work would try to sabotage the relationship out of jealousy, or allowing the victim to tell one person, but keep things a secret from all of the rest of their friends and family. Any of these things can leave the person you care about with an oddly jumpy, secretive attitude about their online or phone activity.
If your friend used to brag about all the women who flirt with him in the chat room he uses in the evenings, but now says 'nobody' when you ask about it, or your cousin used to forward you pictures of everything from cute guys she met on dating sites to the car she's planning to buy, and suddenly stopped, your friend may be in a secret online "relationship" with a scammer.
He or she suddenly loses one large or several small amounts of money or begins talking or behaving as though he or she is having financial problems.
There are several ways a person can fall into sudden financial difficulty, but falling prey to a scammer is certainly one of them. The money needn't even be completely gone to cause concern. Setting aside money can also be a warning sign, especially if the person is secretive or defensive when asked why the money is being stashed.
Your friend has developed an interest in new places.
This is an especially strong warning signal if the place they are suddenly interested in is Nigeria, Ghana, a nation in the former Soviet Union, Malaysia, or any other country that is a hotbed for organized rings of romance scammers. This new interest could stem from the belief that the love of their life is working, visiting family, or doing missionary work there. A romance scam victim may also develop what appears to be a sudden fascination with the state or city the scammer pretends to live in, or in the case of many domestic scammers, actually does live in.
Daily and weekly routines and activities have changed.
Scammers alter their victims' eating habits, sleeping patterns, and other daily activities in order to make them more susceptible to brainwashing.
The scammer may be insisting on a late night chat via text every night, leaving your coworker tired, unable to focus, and craving sugary breakfast foods in the morning. Or the scammer might have decided to mess with your brother's body chemistry and test his willingness to do what they ask by pressuring him to give up his morning run in order to chat with them via IM instead. Your roommate may shower at two in the morning because he's been up all night talking to a "girlfriend" or you may notice that his normally spotless room is now musty and cluttered thanks to an overflowing laundry hamper and dirty bedding he forgot to wash because he was chatting online for entire afternoons. Pay special attention to someone who suddenly seems to be going to the bank much more than normal, or needing an excessive amount of shipping supplies. They may have been tricked into sending money, making purchases, or unknowingly reshipping stolen or other illegal materials for a scammer.
The person has begun to pull away or isolate from friends and family members both online and offline.
As the scam progresses, the victim's lack of presence in the lives of others goes beyond the initial excited focus on what they think is their new love. Scammers demand chats at odd hours, give their victims little tests and projects to see if they are compliant, and drill it into them that their family and friends would be jealous or against their relationship until the scammer's voice is the only one the person hears. This may cause the target of the scam to stop confiding in or even checking in with friends and family members, avoiding offline social situations, and even neglecting to post updates on social web pages where family and friends can see them and know they are okay.
Subtle changes in values, tastes, and interests can be seen.
Scammers create characters designed to snare each victim by working to match or compliment the characters' values, tastes, and interests to the specific targets. Your friend will not likely switch their basic values, religious affiliation, or career because of the scammer, as the scammer probably pretended to either have similar views and goals in those areas, or pretended to be someone who suited your friend well in those areas.
At the same time, scammers will give their victims little tests designed to gauge how willing they are to do what the scammer wants. This often involves prodding the person to change small details about themselves. You might notice your friend suddenly favoring a certain type of food, taking up a new form of exercise, or adding or removing certain items from his home.
The person seems to be wrapped up in a new, and slightly odd research project.
Many scammers will urge their victims to take up little projects related to the life they are pretending the two of them are going to live together. This is a mind control tactic that serves three purposes. It makes the situation seem even more real to the victim. This also keeps the victim focused on the scammer, and cuts into their time for anyone else. Little projects also keep the victim's mind occupied, giving them little to no time to ponder the situation and see the red flags that may be present.
You may notice changes in your friend's clothing style and appearance.
Scam related appearance changes may seem good for the person on the surface. Your friend might start choosing especially flattering colors when buying new shirts, visit a salon for a special beauty treatment, get new makeup or aftershave, or buy a dress or jacket that is clearly intended for a night out or a special date. In any other situation this would be absolutely harmless, but if the person is enmeshed with a scammer, they might be preparing for a special date or vacation that is never going to happen and fixing themselves up to look their best for a person who does not really exist.
Should you notice a cluster of these signs, reach out to your friend without making accusations or demands. Let them tell you their story, and offer observations when they seem ready to listen.
Return next week for some tips on talking to your friend.
Much of the research for my second novel, Chatting as Adalee, centered around internet romance scams. These scams are always out there, and the more single artists put themselves out there, the more susceptible they are to them. You do not have to be on a dating site. Scammers lurk everywhere. Those of us who are taken are only somewhat protected, as romance scammers are often willing to adapt, and will run a friendship scam, in which they convince the victim they are like a sister or brother to them, should literal “romance” not be an option.
An internet romance scam occurs any time anyone first pretends to be a different person, or a different version of him or herself online, and then uses that created persona to enter into a fake romantic relationship (or close friendship, if need be) with someone else online. Sometimes internet romance scams are run for a general sense of revenge on the world or certain segments of the population. Other times they are run to get revenge on a known individual. Tricking a victim into doing illegal errands involving reshipping or banking are very common as well. However, the vast majority of scammers operate with the goal of getting their victims to send them money and/or buy things for them. The upheaval caused by the scam can further cause a victim to make uncharacteristically poor work and money decisions or to spend their money in ways they ordinarily would not. There are three ways a victim of an internet romance or friendship scam may lose money.
Direct Loss of Financial Resources
Losing your money and ruining your credit is the first type of monetary loss that most people think of, and for good reason. It is typically the most devastating form of financial loss. This type of loss occurs when the scammer, posing as the created persona, either asks the victim directly for money, or tells increasingly touching tales of problems with work, health, family, friends, or travel until the victim offers to send it to them. In some cases, the scammer also asks for or hints for expensive items such as iphones, laptops, or plane tickets.
The amount of money lost in this manner varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. Each victim will feel the impact of their financial loss differently depending on their individual life circumstances. A man who sent his scammer $5,000 and a woman who sent her scammer $500,000 are both going to be completely financially devastated if that was all the money each had. Direct financial loss can also be the most embarrassing for a victim, as they often brerate themselves for sending money or purchasing expensive gifts for a person who doesn't even truly exist.
Friends and family members of a romance scam victim who suffered direct monetary losses will understandably be shocked, but it is important not to dwell on the amount of money lost or to add to the person's shame and embarrassment . It will be far more helpful to simply listen to the victim, and when they are ready to reorganize their finances, help them find accountants or financial consultants, craft a new budget, or make other changes in their financial habits as needed for their unique situation.
Job, Business, or Academic Loss Due to Involvement with the Scammer
Scammers know that messing with a person's daily routine is the quickest route to altering their thinking. Pushing for late night and early morning conversations, making requests to 'take naps together' in what is the middle of the day for the victim, and arranging for phone calls or IM chats during what would normally be dinner time are common tactics. These changes make the victim hungry and tired at odd times, and can cause them to have trouble focusing during their working hours. The added stress of believing that a loved one is going through the horrible stories the scammer tells can also impair their ability to function well at work. This can result in the loss of a job or business clients for the scam victim. Students may neglect homework assignments, forget to study for tests, or finish projects hurriedly because they have begun spending their study time devoted to the scammer.
Finding out that a friend has been demoted or fired, seen a large number of clients go elsewhere, or has dropped out of school because of a scammer will be unsettling. Your urge will probably be to yell out "how could you brush off your real job/degree for some person that didn't even exist?" or "well what are you going to do for money/your academic credits now?" Channel this urge into something productive. Ask the person what you can do to help, and then do what they need you to do. Two hours spent helping the person update their resume, talk to their professors, sign up for an employment service, or go job hunting is going to be much more productive than five hours of glaring at them and lecturing them on how foolish they were.
Money Spent to Please the Scammer
Scammers often give their victims little projects. They might have them read certain books, learn a new skill, or look for a new house or apartment. This is done to keep the victim focused on the scammer, and less likely to talk to friends and family who might point out the red flags. Many of the little projects scammers push their victims into cost money.
Victims may also purchase items or participate in activities that make them feel closer to the person they believe they have fallen in love with online, or begin investing in their appearance in order to look their best for what they think is a new love. Victims of friendship scams may spend money preparing for a visit, or purchasing items necessary to travel to visit what they believe is their new best friend.
Never trivialize this type of money loss, or argue with the person that what they got out of it was really very useful or nice. They need to get rid of these items for their mental health. It may seem senseless to get rid of a perfectly good set of cookbooks, DVDs, or golf clubs, or odd that a person would want to give away clothes that have garnered them compliments at work, but keeping these things around will only keep them tied to the scam emotionally. Help your friend gather up everything they bought to please the scammer and donate it to the nearest thrift store as quickly as they can. Don't argue with them if they need to cancel gym memberships, drop out of activities, or quit getting beauty treatments or other services they seemed to enjoy. It is a necessary part of their psychological healing.
In troubled times, people want answers. We also need to relax and alleviate stress, and activities like fortune telling and predictions seem like quirky fun games. Psychics are available to offer such services to celebrities and other guests for our enjoyment on several TV shows we may all be streaming now. The less well-known ones may be found all over the internet, waiting to tell us what the future holds.This past fall, a “psychic fair” was even held here in Utica.
Far from being a portal to insight, or a fun game to play, psychic readings are scams, and the people who offer them are scammers.
Psychics are not reading anything. The scam starts in the mind of the scam victim.
The first tool a psychic uses to scam their victims is the target’s own mindset. People who accept these things as real are going into the psychic fair or the psychic’s office or booth already expecting to talk to their ancestor who died over a hundred years ago, or getting to meet a favorite rock star who has passed on without going to heaven themselves first.
Once you convince yourself something is going to happen, it’s easy to think it’s happening, even when it is not. Think back to the last time some minor detail about your appearance made you self-conscious. Maybe your haircut or color didn’t turn out the way you wanted, or you tried trimming your beard or wearing a new shade of lipstick and thought the result was unflattering. You probably thought everyone was looking at you and noticing how bad you looked that day. In reality, strangers had no idea you looked any different than you did yesterday, and could not possibly have known something happened to your appearance. But you were convinced they were “noticing” your odd looks. That look you interpreted as ‘What a weird way to wear your hair,’ or ‘What did that guy do to his beard?’ was really just them looking for someone over your shoulder, or the color of your sweater or shirt catching their eye. But you convinced yourself people were giving you critical glances, so that’s what you experienced.
Psychics work the same way. You see them communicating with those who have passed or spirit guides because you’ve convinced yourself that’s what they are doing. They’re not truly communicating with anyone, except for you.
Psychic “messages” are nothing more than prompts to make their targets talk.
In the “Prompts” series, I write about different subjects in the hope that you will begin thinking and talking about something I said and take it from there in your writing, painting, or other art work. If I were dishonet, I could make a great living as a psychic. They’re doing the same thing. Psychics are just using random words and phrases instead of entire articles, and the goal is to get you to talk to them, not to create a piece of art.
The psychic says, “I’m getting a dark haired woman. Someone from your past. Maybe a mother. Maybe a mother figure…” Those statements prompt you to think of someone with dark hair who had something to do with mothers. They’re so general, they will prompt anyone to come up with something. Everybody can think of somebody who has some relation to a mother or a mother figure, and everyone has seen a woman whose hair they would describe as dark.
Once you blurt something out, the psychic tosses out another prompt. If I fell for it, I might say, “Oh yes. That’s my Great-grandmother, the mother of my grandfather. She had thick black hair.”
I just gave the psychic a lot more detail to throw out some more prompts, tailored to me. The longer I continue, the more detail I provide, giving the psychic further material to use to tailor his or her word prompts to me.
Continuing with the example above, the psychic would know my thoughts went to someone I had never met, who had passed on. This would tell them there were no dark haired maternal figures currently in my life weighing on my mind.
“She’s watching over you. She sees what you’re going through today,” might come next. This would encourage me to start thinking about any problem I might be having today, and talk to the psychic about it.
“My novel,” I might say.
“Yes,” the psychic could then say. “She sees you writing your novel. She knows the issue you’re having with it. Maybe…I’m getting a pen…publishing….writing…editing.”
“Writing!” I would yell out in response to the prompt. “That’s it. I have no time to write..” Now the psychic knows I am either overly busy or have poor time management skills and can start getting “messages” about time for me.
By the end, nothing would have happened beyond me responding to additional prompts with enough personal detail to enable the psychic to craft increasingly elaborate prompts. And this is all that ever happens during a psychic reading. They are not doing anything you couldn’t do yourself with a simple writing prompt book or word association exercise.
Despite psychic readings being fake, there are some real dangers.
Because the psychic is nothing more than a random person doing a word and phrase prompt exercise with you, they may seem harmless. Okay, so you’re not getting to meet Duke Ellington or Freddie Mercury for advice on your music career without having to go to heaven yourself first. But what’s the harm in pretending if it allows you to talk through an issue you may be having?
On a purely psychological level, there is the danger of dependence. You become so used to consulting a psychic for the answers to questions you could have simply written down in your journal, brought up at your next scheduled therapy appointment, or mentioned over coffee with a trusted friend, you become unable to work through your problems in these more everyday ways. You become dependent on psychic readings, thinking you can only get the answers from them.
Spiritually, the danger of psychics takes us all the way back to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Knowing the future, talking directly to those who have passed on and getting a response, and controlling supernatural beings are forms of knowledge and power that belong to God, not humans. Consulting a psychic announces that you think you should have some of God’s power. This attitude pleases the enemy of man, who would like nothing more than to enter your life and mess with you in any way he can. The devil is delighted to see you providing an opening for him via the most narcissistic attitude you could possibly adopt.
Don’t make uncertain, stressful times worse by inviting influences you definitely do not want into your life, while at the same time rendering yourself unable to cope on a practical level.