Tragedies seem to be on the rise this summer. And while there are a lot of people out there doing all they can to help, there are always those who will use a tragedy to run a scam.
“Heartstrings” scams are scams that prey on their targets’ compassion, kindness and/or sense of justice. The scammer presents him or herself as someone who has suffered some type of tragedy or injustice. Faking cancer…in themselves or in a child or a spouse… is a common ploy. Some heartstrings scammers fake disabilities, or pretend to be someone who has recently survived domestic violence or natural disaster. They may set up a fund to help pay for treatment or therapy, or ask for items for a new home or baby that does not exist. The funds of course, go right in the scammer’s pocket. The items typically wind up sold for cash.
Get a free gaming console while helping a grief-stricken parent
You’re on social media, browsing your favorite marketplace, yard sale, and swap meet groups. The ads range from reasonable, professional posts by people flipping items as a side hustle, to blurbs from people trying to get rid of single items or announcing offline yard sales, to those ridiculous offers from people who expect others to pay near retail price for an item that is clearly used. But then, you notice this one:
“My son died of cancer last week,” the post reads. “He was only six years old. I bought him a PS5. He never got to open it. I want to gift it to someone that needs it. It hurts my heart just to look at it.”
Even if you have no desire to own a Playstation or any other video game equipment, you feel like reaching out to this person, who is being so generous in the midst of their own unimaginable tragedy. They could have just dropped the PS5 off at their local thrift store, but they want to bless someone else. At the very least, you want to send a message of support and condolence.
Resist the urge, no matter how moving the story. There is no grieving parent. This is just another round of a particularly tasteless, cold-hearted “heartstrings scam” that has been in play for at least two years. The small child who died of cancer is just one variation. Sometimes, the son was in college, died in a car accident on the way home, and never got to open his gift. In other versions, it’s a daughter who was killed on the way home. Only the PS5 that the grieving parent cannot bear to look at remains the same.
Anyone who reaches out offering to take the PS5 that is causing the parent so much heartbreak is promised the gaming device, but asked to send a small amount of money to cover the cost of shipping. Once the money is sent, the scam is successful. The victim never gets the PS5, and they never get their shipping costs refunded.
Help Ukrainian refugees
The war in Ukraine is not the lead story anymore, but it is still on your mind. You probably know someone from Ukraine, or someone who has family and friends living there. You know the people in Ukraine are still under attack by Putin and his forces. You’ve been thinking of ways to help, perhaps talking about doing something with some friends.
Shortly after a post or chat about Ukraine, you get an email that looks like it came from a well-known charity organization, reminding you that they are still collecting donations for the people there. This must be a sign that you are meant to help right now.
It isn’t. Today’s scammers have the means and the dedication to create pages that look identical to the webpages of established charity organizations. They can duplicate logos, information, even the exact wording of the real organization’s website.
Never donate through an email, text message, or social media message you have received. If you feel called to help the people of Ukraine this summer, your best option is to donate through an established, local organization like your church or the nearest chapter of a national or international charity. If you prefer to donate online, go directly to the official website of the organization you want your donation to go through.
Help your loved one, who is on the phone begging for your help.
When you first see the phone number of your family member or old friend on your screen, you’re happy to hear from them. But the call is not because they want to catch up or have some happy news to share. Your loved one is in trouble. They need you to send them some money to get them out of a scary, dangerous, or otherwise unsurmountable situation right away. You are tempted to send them money, after all, this is them. The call is from their phone.
Hang up anyway. Hang up, and call your loved one directly to ask them if they just called you. This may be a “vishing” scam. The term “vishing” comes from combining “voice over internet protocol” and “phishing.”
This is the classic “grandparents scam,” in which the scammer pretends to be someone’s grandchild in trouble. In previous versions of the scam, the call would come from a strange number, with the “grandchild” ready with an excuse as to why they’re calling from somebody else’s phone. This more sophisticated version uses the ability to spoof numbers to make it appear that the call is coming from the phone of a loved one.
It may be tempting to think, “as long as some people get help, I don’t care if I get scammed once in a while.” And that is a kind and loving approach, but it does not truly help anyone. If you have $100, you feel called to use it to bless someone in need, and $50 of it goes to a scammer, those people who are truly in need still have that same need. They never got the resources that lost $50 would have provided. The goal is of course to keep yourself from being scammed, but also to prevent scammers from diverting funds that should have gone to fill a true need. And sometimes, a single extra moment of caution is all it takes to make sure the funds you use to bless others actually bless them.
Online learning became a necessity over the past two years, as it was not safe to gather in a classroom offline. Some people did well. Others had difficulty coping, and struggled to succeed. Anyone can force themselves to make it through an online course, but some people are better suited to online learning than others. The information below is directed at adult learners. Children and teens have unique academic, social, and emotional needs. If you are unsure about the correct learning environment for your child, speak to their current teacher or another expert in child psychology and learning before making decisions for them.
Online learning is best for people who are able to work with little to no direction from others.
Some people need a pre-set plan, direct supervision, and a lot of direction from a supervisor or manager to do well at a job. Others are able to start from the beginning of a project, plan the work, and create their own schedule. Neither of these types are “good” or “bad” at learning or anything else. They are just different personalities that react differently to variations in their environment.
In an online course, you will likely have due dates and deadlines set for you. Lessons will be pre-made. The work of each day, however, will be entirely up to you. Nobody will be expecting you to show up in a classroom every Monday night at 7 p.m. You will need to go over your schedule and decide for yourself whether or not Monday is a school day, and which hours are school time. And you will have to be disciplined and focused enough to stick to the decision you made.
Students who are comfortable working alone, but not in complete isolation, are best suited to online learning.
Virtual classrooms are not always as isolated as some people make them out to be. You will interact with other students and with your teacher. In-person interactions are not eliminated, but may be replaced with chats and meetings via Zoom, discussion boards, email exchanges, instant messenger exchanges, and other forms of online communication we are all familiar with from other parts of life.
But you will not be able to sit in a room full of people. You may not even be able to arrange to sit in a room full of people by gathering together with other online students. Zoom meetings, phone calls, listening to recorded lectures, and watching videos might disrupt others’ learning. You are going to need to spend at least some time physically alone in a room.
Those who express themselves better in writing than by speaking may prefer online learning.
There are opportunities to talk to people when you are an online student. Some instructors welcome, or even encourage, phone calls from students. You may be assigned group projects that require you to call or hold Zoom meetings with your classmates. In some classes, the instructor will even hold an in-person lecture or class that is traditional in every way, except that it is done through Zoom.
But in many cases, you are going to be asked to communicate with your teacher and your fellow students through writing. Much of the discussion in class is done through discussion boards. Email and messenger systems hosted by the school are common ways to talk to your instructor and your fellow students.
Those who consider their words carefully before they speak are better suited to online learning than those with a tendency to blurt or speak first and ponder what they said later.
The opposite should be true. Online classrooms should be the perfect place for that person who can always be counted on to say what others are thinking but are too afraid to announce. If they’re on a discussion board, they have to type and can’t just blurt things out.
What some do not realize is that many discussion board comments cannot be edited, and instant messenger messages cannot be erased. If you are talking to the class over Zoom, it is likely being recorded, and made available to anyone who wants to listen to it until the class closes. This makes what you say, gaffes and all, much more permanent than offline, in-person speech. If I say something rude, embarrassing, or otherwise inappropriate in room 203 of the nearest traditional university on Monday at ten, there will be no record of it, and half the class may forget it happened in a month or less. If I post that same thing on the unit 3 discussion board in my online class, it’s there until the class closes.
Taking a class online is best for those who are comfortable online, but do not already “live” there.
The person whose whole life revolves around the internet, the one who is always reading their facebook page, enjoys posting every detail of their life, and knows more about their favorite YouTubers than they know about their actual friends may seem like the ideal online learner. Some may indeed find an online class a natural extension of what they already do all day. Others may struggle, as the lure of their facebook, instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and wherever else they go online all day may prove too much of a distraction.
Online learning may help those who need to save some money
There are no truly cheap accredited colleges or quality training programs around anymore. Everything costs money, and school is no exception. Online classes just tend to be slightly cheaper than their offline versions. Even if the tuition and required materials cost the same, taking a class online saves you the cost of travel to and from campus, eliminates the need to buy meals or drinks between classes, and can lessen spending due to social pressure, such as buying new school clothes or meeting for snacks or drinks after class.
Online learning is not for everyone. But it can be an option for those whose personality and/or or life circumstances make it suitable. Before signing up for an online course, consider whether your unique traits and needs make it the right learning environment for you.
Artist Cafe Utica has always been a website for and about Utica artists, and it always will serve that purpose. There are just a few changes effective July, 2022.
What changes were made?
Previously, Artist Cafe Utica had three functions. It was a place to purchase novels, music, and more from the site owner and any other local artists who wished to add links to their work to the site. It was a place for local artists to get free content for their website, blog, social media page, magazine, or other publication. And it was a point of contact to arrange custom researched and written work done by the site owner on a freelance basis.
Only the custom work option has been eliminated. Artist Cafe Utica is still a place to purchase novels, music, and more from the site owner and other local artists. It is still the place to find free content for your online or print publication or space.
Why did you eliminate the custom work option?
There was not enough interest in the service. The income from freelance writing only averaged out to $72 per month for the first seven months of the year, with nobody expressing any interest in purchasing any content in the coming months. Work that pays out at $42-$72 per month isn’t lucrative enough to keep doing with today’s prices.
Offering custom freelance writing work in addition to hosting the free library of articles for local artists also seemed to generate a bit of confusion. In one instance a few years ago, someone contacted me for writing services, refused to order anything, and then sent me a text message “firing” me from the staff job I had never taken. More than one person has mistaken me for a staff writer of a publication I freelanced for, and sent me materials to be submitted to the publication, or not understood that I was writing a feature for a client and not for my own website. I found myself spending more time clarifying that I was a freelance writer offering services to clients than I spent actually writing material for people.
Does this mean your work will no longer be seen anywhere but on Artist Cafe Utica?
For the most part, yes. I do have one long-standing project that will continue. Each month, I write a column for Phoenix Media called “The Heat Beat.” It is a joint project between Phoenix Radio and the news magazine, “The Utica Phoenix.” They have been outstanding clients, and are a sister organization to For the Good, Inc, a non-profit that hosts numerous worthwhile programs that greatly benefit the community. This will be the only custom writing that I do going forward. Everything else will be posted to the “Library” section of Artist Cafe Utica, offered free of charge to anyone who would like the content.
What if someone wants an article about a certain topic?
Readers are more than welcome to request topics. A local artist could always request a topic, and then help themselves to a free copy of that feature once it’s posted. This works out in their favor, because something that would have cost them $125 can now be obtained for free.
How will you make money, if you’re not going to sell articles anymore?
The income from my independent writing, both fiction writing and nonfiction writing for and about Utica artists, was never my main source of income. In addition to being a novelist and arts writer, I am also a writing teacher. My regular pay from teaching writing goes into the savings account I use to pay myself each month, and cover my basic expenses. Income from my own writing has always been my spending money. And there are still two income streams open for that.
Copies of my self-published novels are still available through Artist Cafe Utica. I earn 70% of the purchase price whenever someone buys an ebook or paperback copy of one of my novels.
There is also a tip jar available. If you read and enjoy the free articles in our library, post a link to an article on your social media page, or take some content to use in your publication or on your website, consider leaving a tip by clicking on the link to the “Go Fund Me” page and making a contribution.
Were there any other changes made?
The Avon page was taken down. I am still an Avon representative. It is a great company offering outstanding products. Avon sales didn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the site. Of course, artists can buy Avon. But it did not fall into the same category as “novels, music, and more for and about Utica artists” when everything else…including the “more” was some form of art and/or writing about the arts.
Will you be adding any other services?
At this time, there are no plans to offer additional services. Artist Cafe Utica will serve as a place to purchase novels, music, and more from local artists, and a place to obtain free content for any publication or website owned or managed by a Utica area artist.
The online extortion scam is a modern version of the classic blackmail scheme. The perpetrator either obtains or claims to have something damaging about you. They threaten to use that item or piece of information in a way that will harm you if you do not give them what they want.
Online blackmail is old news, but today’s version has taken on a frightening twist. In the older version, the scammer contacts you claiming to already have something damaging. They may insist they have hacked into your computer, or that a link you recently clicked on gave them access to your files. Those are easily dealt with by letting the site administrator of the website where the message was received know what is going on, and deleting and blocking the scammer accounts without replying. But in the newer twist, the scammer first gains the victim’s trust, and manipulates them into providing materials that are then used in the blackmail scheme. This is often referred to as “sextortion,” (sex, texting, and extortion), because the material the victim is either persuaded to send, or blackmailed into sending, is often sexual or revealing in nature. In an especially chilling twist, the FBI has recently reported a spike in these crimes aimed at teens and children.
Here are some warning signs:
Classic “catfishing” signs
The MTV show “Catfish” has some flaws. Host Nev Schulman often gives dangerous advice, suggesting scam victims befriend their scammers, behaving as though being scammed is something that can be brushed off, and giving the impression that romance scammers are just losers who deserve a second chance. In reality, romance scammers are often dangerous people, and being the victim of a romance scam can cause serious psychological and financial damage. But Schulman does deserve credit for publicizing the fact that people often pretend to be someone they are not on the internet, and the warning signs that this may be happening.
Never trust someone who resists meeting offline and in public in a situation where meeting would be the logical next step. There is no good reason why two adults in an online dating relationship but residing in the same town would not be able to meet for coffee, two adults discussing a job should not be able to connect for an interview before the job is accepted, or the parents of children who are chatting online would not be able to talk, or even meet up in public.
Look out for differences in the life the person presents and the one they appear to lead. Parents of babies do not have unlimited time to be on the computer. Nobody is tall one day and short the next. All who “catfish” are not planning extortion, but if you are seeing these signs, there is a good chance you’re talking to a person who is not online for the reason they claim, and their real reason may be extortion.
Pressure to move to another online space
Everyone has online spaces where they are more or less comfortable. Some people don’t care for chatting via facebook messenger, and would rather keep in touch with friends using old-fashioned email, or vice-versa. But when your friend of thirty years says, “Hey, let’s go on Facebook, so we can chat in real time instead of waiting for email,” it’s a very different situation than when someone you only met a few minutes, hours, or days ago wants to leave the platform.
Scammers…especially extortion scammers….want to leave the platform where they first met you because they want to get you in an environment where it is more comfortable for them to carry out their scheme. They may want to go someplace where it is easier to send and receive pictures, have longer chats, or learn your email address, location, or phone number.
Uncomfortable or inappropriately intimate conversation
Extortion scammers are fishing for information or material they can use for blackmail. One way to get this information or material is to get into an intimate conversation with their victim. And a scammer is going to want to get this information as fast as they can. They will often initiate, and pressure their victim into, providing personal information or materials.
Engaging in “sexting,” the exchange of sexual dialogue, messages, or photos as an online sexual encounter, is of course the most obvious. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security just because you are happily monogamous with the love of your life, fully aware of the potential dangers of sexting, and/or someone who finds the whole idea of this behavior distasteful and would never do this. It is far from the only kind of private or intimate information that can be shared or obtained online.
Scammers who realize you are not going to “sext” with them can obtain other types of private information. They may pose as a platonic friend available for venting, a professional “mentor” who gets you to open up about your work history and finances, or someone going through the same health issues as you or a family member, persuading you to share private medical or mental health information.
Overly friendly and attentive behavior
A common warning sign among all types of scams, this one is met with the most resistance. It sounds like nobody can even be friendly and compassionate toward someone else on the internet without everybody accusing them of being a scammer.
Compassionate, friendly behavior is not a red flag itself. Friendly behavior becomes a warning sign when it is behavior that would read as overly friendly in any situation. Look out for the person who wants you to think they would do anything for you, even though they just met you, responds with a flood of compliments to anything and everything you say, or has all the time in the world to “mentor” or coach you.
Promises of rewards or benefits
In case you are still tempted to sit back and say, “MY child would never share anything private. They aren’t even interested in that part of life yet.” or “I’m happily married and would never betray my spouse in any way,” or “I do not go on the internet and share any of my personal life, intimate or not, with strangers,” know that the scammers already thought people like you would be out there, and planned for it.
Your child may be approached by someone pretending to be casting for a modeling or acting job, and told that they must send photos of themselves or information about their appearance for their “portfolio.” Or they might be made to believe they will win a prize for participating in “a silly dare” or “social media challenge” by someone pretending to be their own age.
Adult targets will see right through these, but far too many adults are willing to engage in online conversations with strangers about jobs and investment opportunities. And some of these strangers may be fishing for your banking information, your unfiltered opinion of your boss, or other information you would not want to get out.
Should these red flags begin to pile up, do not engage with the person any further. Block them from contacting you. Any explicit conversation with a child or teen under the age of consent, or credible threats containing information that could lead the person to a victim of any age should be reported to law enforcement.
While we spend more and more time socializing, networking, and working online, let’s not forget to look out for ourselves and each other.
Many of the most popular scams on social media today soon become obvious. The one asking for anyone willing to work a night shift looks like a local event seeking temporary stagehands until you read down the ad and realize they’re claiming you can sign up to work from home for Amazon doing simple tasks like packing gift baskets, and earn hundreds of dollars per week. Others, such as psychics, are apparently not so obvious, as people have fallen for their simple word association games and body language and tone of voice reading for longer than anyone reading this has been alive. Still others are just odd. They definitely seem too good to be true, but many believe them anyway, as there does not appear to be anything in it for the scammer.
This is known as the “blessing” scam. The post appears to be from someone goodhearted and generous. They offer to bless anyone who answers an easy trivia question, or lets them know what time they saw a post. People respond, reasoning that no harm can come from typing the word “food” when asked for a word other than “good” and “book” with two o’s in it, or telling a stranger what time you saw their post. And while no direct harm can come from even the worst person on earth realizing that you know the word “look” or that you saw a post at exactly 9:47 in the morning, the post does serve as a test to see if you will fall for the next steps.
As embarrassing as this may be to accept, you must have had at least a moment of gullibility if you honestly believed there were people out there giving away sums of money to total strangers for completing simple tasks on the internet. There have been instances in which someone was led by the Holy Spirit to bless complete strangers with money. But those situations unfold with the person spontaneously giving the money to the people they are called to bless, or contacting a church or established, well-known nonprofit and discretely arranging a donation to be used to bless someone. A person truly called to bless others in this way would have no reason to give them a test first, no matter how easy the question.
And that next step is where the scam takes off. Once the scammer sees people “liking” or commenting on the post, they can then go back and edit the original post to include a link that downloads malware to your computer. This malware can then be used to access your information, including your banking information. Since you showed the scammers you are not carefully examining things online when you fell for their pitch, they’re confident that you aren’t checking your accounts closely enough or often enough to stop them from making unauthorized purchases on your credit cards, taking out new credit card accounts using your information, or using your identity to open up other types of accounts.
Another popular like farming/blessing scam seems even more harmless at first glance. In this scam, you are not promised any type of blessing. You are asked to give a blessing, and the blessing does not even require you to part with with any money or material goods. All it asks for is a moment of your time.
A photo appears at random on your social media feed. The photo may be of a person or an animal, but the caption is always something that tugs at the heartstrings. “Nobody will say ‘hello’ to me because I’m ugly,” it might read. Or “Today is my birthday. I bet nobody wishes me a happy birthday today.” Sometimes it simply says, “I bet I won’t even get one share!”
Assuming no harm can come to them, and wishing to brighten the day of the person in the photo or the owner of the pet in the photo, people like, share, and respond with “Happy Birthday, Sweetie.” Or “Hello, beautiful girl.”
And just as with commenting “7:26” or “good” in the hopes of winning $3,900, you have now added your name to the list of people who are going to have malware installed on their page, and are probably not paying close enough attention to remove it right away.
Preventing these scams starts with paying attention to what you like, share, and comment on social media. Avoid interacting with these “blessings” posts, no matter how tempting it may be to think there is someone out there who wants to send you money, or how heartbreaking the photo or caption asking for your greeting or share may be. You are not ruining a generous person’s attempt at doing the Lord’s work. The people who posted that “money for your simple answer” offer have no intention of ever giving anyone any type of gift or blessing. And you will not hurt the feelings of a bullied child or lonely pet owner. Those photos are stolen. Their real owners have no idea they are even being passed around online, and will never see your share or greeting. Scroll past, without commenting, liking, or sharing. Should you notice a group or business page getting flooded with these, contact the group or page administrator.
by Jess Szabo
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica website
We like to differentiate between “real life” and “online,” but the truth is, the internet is very much a part of real life. Those are real people we are communicating with, and our actions can have real consequences, both desirable ones and things we truly wished had never happened. Far from being outside of reality, our online communities are actually vast public or semi-public spaces, with some unique features. You can’t scroll past people offline, or have a three hour conversation with somebody without knowing what they look like, or save a conversation and come back later when you ran into someone at the coffeehouse, as you can when you stumbled across them online.
But you can have an impact on someone else no matter where you encounter them, and the internet is too much a part of our lives to brush online interactions off as “just on the internet” anymore. Treating people with kindness and compassion shouldn’t stop at the keyboard.
One of the most common ways to interact with people online is through joining online groups. Facebook groups are available for everything from health issues to careers to hobbies to having a favorite dog breed or television show. And like offline support groups, meetup groups, or meetings, there are some things to keep in mind to help them run smoothly and benefit everyone as much as possible.
Scroll past posts that are simply unpleasant, annoying, or unhelpful to you personally.
In any group, somebody is going to bring up something you don’t want to talk about at some point. If you go out to dinner, two sports fans might start chatting about the game, even though you haven’t paid attention to sports in years. You might have to listen to the boring story about somebody’s kids getting ready for school while you’re in a meeting at the office. The internet is no different. Maybe you don’t like all the posts about gardening in your healthy living group, or you’re in a group for musicians, and somebody keeps posting about a band you don’t listen to. This is where the internet’s unique features come in handy. Offline, it would be quite rude to just turn and walk away mid conversation. Online, you can just scroll past. There is no need to comment and inform people that this is a topic you don’t care to talk about. If someone wants to know if anyone else is into whatever they’re talking about, they will ask.
Defund and dismantle the political correctness police.
Just as no one truly needs to know that you do not like gardening or cutesy kid stories or sports, everyone who chooses the same online group as you does not need to be informed that you “evolved past” caring about the way you look, or that you’re “too enlightened” to like a particular song or movie.
Before commenting, sit back and ask yourself, “Is this thread, this online conversation, truly harmful to others? Is someone honestly in some kind of danger if they participate in this? Or am I just trying to ruin things for somebody else because they aren’t to my liking?”
The prime example of this is “celebrity crush” or “hot celebrities” threads intended for group members to get to know one another in a lighthearted fun way. Those who simply aren’t into celebrities, crushes, celebrity crushes, or getting to know people in a lighthearted fun way scroll past. Others offer up their lists. But there always has to be that one person who joins the conversation just to inform everybody else that this conversation is beneath them, it should be beneath everyone else too, and they should all be talking about something else. Don’t be that person. This may feel evolved and enlightened and righteous, but to everyone whose conversation you just ruined, you only come across as a spoiled brat who can’t handle exposure to anything not to their liking.
The “reporting” function is for things that truly disrupt the group, not things that you and you alone don’t find helpful.
The option to report posts and comments to the moderators or administrators is there to keep the group running smoothly. It should be used if the group begins to be filled with spam posts, or if somebody is posting things that frighten or sicken others to the point that they can no longer participate in the group. It is not there to report people for bringing up topics that are relevant to the group, but not to you personally, for letting the administrators or moderators know that you do not like someone, or for getting back at somebody who argued with you in another thread.
Even if you declined to comment, reporting a post to tell the moderators that you don’t think John Z’s post about sleep problems is taking the anxiety group in the right direction, or that you are afraid others won’t relate to Jane Y’s post about indoor planting in your gardening group is still disruptive. Your best course of action is to simply join in on other conversations without a word to or about the ones you do not find useful.
Respect the privacy of everyone…including those who displease you.
In any large group, there are going to be jerks. It doesn’t matter what the interest or the issue might be, if you get a large group together online or offline or a mix of both, there will be somebody in there who has to start trouble for others.
Should you become the focus of this person, it may be tempting to “put them on blast,” or share their content, including their name and profile picture, if applicable, in a way that people outside the group can see them. The goal, of course, is to get everyone to back you up, and agree with you that the person is in fact, quite the toad.
Don’t do it. You may think you’re “exposing” a bad person, but all you’re really doing is showing everyone that you’re willing to break confidences and humiliate anybody who upsets you.
Do speak up and reach out if you see someone getting into a dangerous situation.
There is no point in forming any type of community, online or offline, if we’re not going to look out for the members of that community. If you see someone planning or seeking something dangerous, giving out a risky amount of personal information, or giving advice that could lead to harm to someone else…speak up. Comment, private message, flag, or do whatever you need to in order to keep people safe.
The unique features of the internet do not make it any less real than a large public space anywhere else. But they do make it a bit different than other public spaces. And while those differences can bring problems, they can also provide the means to sidestep or avoid problems. Whether meeting online, offline, or a little bit of both, do all you can to make things run smoothly for yourself and everyone else in the group.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
Scammers are not typically intelligent, creative, or wise people. They’re just opportunistic, and either devoid of a conscience or skilled at making excuses for themselves as to why humiliating people and taking their money is justified. Most “new” scams are nothing more than old scams adapted to new tragedies or problems people face, and the most commonly seen scams in Utica today are no exception.
The “Anyone willing to work a night shift?” scam has been around since at least 2018. It may have gone by other names, but in mid to late March 2022, the scam…with that exact title or line in the post… became a trend among the scammers targeting Utica residents online.
Some of these posts are obviously scams. The rest of the post says things like “Pack candy boxes at home for Amazone. The pay is $980 per week.” Others may be vague enough to look like legitimate, local shift work or scheduled online work to someone whose screen has not yet been flooded with them.
Like all work scams, it plays on both our material needs and our emotions.
Suppose you are struggling financially. The basic expenses simply are not being met before the available cash runs out anymore. You need to pay for your internet and cell phone in order to keep working, but by the time the rest of the bills are paid, there is no money left. Or maybe you have some old credit card debt rising faster than you can pay it down.
Or maybe you’re okay, but just okay. You can meet your basic expenses. You sleep in a safe, clean home, bathe, and eat every day, as long as you stick to Dollar Tree for your personal hygiene and cleaning products, and hot dogs instead of steak. You could really use a little something extra, even if it’s just the means to take the kids out for ice cream once in a while this summer, or a little care package for yourself.
All the ideas from the couponing, money saving, and “getting free stuff” YouTube channels, TikToks, blogs, and Facebook groups have been exhausted. You need some additional cash, and you don’t have the time in your day left to “just go out and get another job.” The one or two you have already takes it all up.
Browsing through your online groups one evening, you keep seeing an ad asking local residents if they are willing to work an overnight shift. The ad is typically accompanied by a stock photo of happy people working. This looks like an opportunity to work a single shift locally, doing something like cleaning up after an event, striking the stage following a local performing arts production, or preparing an area or business for an event the next day.
Once you read the ad, you learn that the job is not local, but an online job working for Amazon. This is even better. You haven’t joined Uber or DoorDash or GrubHub because you cannot spare the time away from home. But this will fit into your schedule beautifully. You will still be here, but you’ll be earning that extra cash, at $20.00 per hour.
Except the cash…and the work…will not be there. As soon as you are “hired” you will either be asked to purchase a $200 “enrollment kit,” install company software that enables you to clock in and out and get your paycheck, or both. The “fee” will only line the scammer’s pocket. The job and your money will be gone. Any software they ask you to install, or links they tell you to open, will contain malware that allows the scammer access to your computer. One you install what may look like a time clock, or click on that link that looks like it only offers you some paperwork for a new job, you will have granted the scammers access to anything you have access to when you open your desktop or laptop computer. They may drain your bank account, use your credit cards, or even open up new accounts in your name. All of this will be done without your consent or awareness.
Legitimate job openings for corporations like Amazon will be posted on the company’s official website. They may also be listed on Indeed dot com, but major corporations do not send random people out into cyberspace to beg others to work for them.
While it would be great if there were something we could do to earn a steady wage that is also easy, flexible, and guaranteed, that type of work simply does not exist. You can reach out to local business people and build a client base for your home based business and schedule your hours whenever you want. But that is going to take time and effort, and the income will not be guaranteed. Going the gig work route is going to leave you dependent on demand. And of course, getting a side job or day job that is actually a night job will require you to stick to a schedule and do regular shift work. Beware of anyone promising otherwise.
And if you were already aware of this scam and knew not to fall for it, remember that everyone is not in the exact same situation as you. Someone else may be more vulnerable due to extreme stress, illness, isolation, or other problems in their lives. Even if they’re that friend who just plain never stops and thinks anything through, they don’t deserve to have their money stolen by scammers. Look out for each other.
by Jess Szabo
originally published on Artist Cafe Utica
For two years, we did everything online because of the pandemic. Now that we are returning to offline gatherings, the price of gas and everything else has made staying home and interacting online a necessity for more and more people all over again.
Due to the increased stress from all of these issues coming one right after the other, online support groups are especially popular, but they can be confusing to navigate. It’s easy to join something because of a single keyword, only to quickly realize you have little in common with anyone else posting or chatting. Or maybe you do not personally face the issue, but it is something you would like to write about in a song, novel, poem, or script as a way to publicize the issue for those who do.
If the group has the words “support,” “survivor,” “victim,” or “warrior” in it, that group is for people who personally cope or have coped with the issue.
Regardless of what you may think of using any of these terms to describe a person who has grappled with an issue in their life, these are some common terms to denote a group for people most directly impacted by whatever the issue might be. A “Depression support group” is for people who have been diagnosed with Depression, or in some cases, who have experienced symptoms for weeks, months, or years but been afraid to seek treatment. If the group is for “Natural disaster survivors,” it’s for people who have been in the direct path of a natural disaster. “Bullying victims” is for those who are currently dealing with bullying or have in the past, and “Fibromyalgia warriors” is a group for people who live each day with fibro.
While some groups with these keywords may welcome those who are simply concerned about those who deal with the issue,as a general rule, they are limited to people whose lives are directly impacted. Regardless of their policy on this, online support groups are not for those who are merely curious or seeking information for personal use. Never join a support group in order to write about an issue, market your services or your art to the group members, or “just to see what those people are really like.” You may have helpful, loving intentions, but this is not the way to carry them out. It will only make the group members feel uncomfortable or afraid in what may be the one place they felt they could open up. If you cannot find another group that addresses the issue, contact the administrators or a moderator via private message and ask to be pointed in the direction of general resources.
Look for keywords like “awareness,” “education,” and “advocates” if you are not personally impacted by an issue, but seek to learn more about those who are.
Groups welcoming those who want to learn more about an issue so they can help in some way are typically named “awareness” or “education” groups. They may also be a group of “advocates,” or “supporters.”
Read through the group description carefully before you join a group like this in order to write a paper, article, novel, poem, script, or song about someone with the issue. If the group exists for education and awareness, members may have no problem with you joining in order to complete a project that publicizes their issue or presents those who cope with it in a realistic manner. Just be upfront and honest about why you are joining the group.
Everyone who gives you advice or guidance on any issue in any online group should be assumed to be a “peer supporter” unless they can prove otherwise.
It is easy for someone who knows a little bit about an issue to come across as an expert to someone who knows nothing about it.. Always check with a verified professional in the field that deals with the issue you are experiencing before doing anything anyone in an online support group tells you to do.
Even if the person offering advice can provide links to their professional webpage, remember that reputable professionals do not join online groups and beg people to be their clients in order to drum up business. Check with a licensed professional in your area before taking health, legal, or banking and investing guidance from anybody you meet online.
Remember that group moderators are volunteers.
People who serve as the administrators and moderators of online support and/ or awareness groups volunteer their time and energy. It is not their job. This means you may have to wait a bit before being approved to the group, having a post approved, or getting an answer to a question. Allow the people that time. They probably have a paying job, kids, and/or other volunteer work they need to tend to as well.
If you seem to never get an answer back, if it’s been weeks and you have not heard from anybody, quietly leave the group and look for something else with a similar focus. The first group may be inactive, or the group may be so big, the moderators cannot keep up with it.
Respect the privacy of everyone in private groups, regardless of your reason for joining.
Putting people “on blast” by copying their post or comment and pasting it on to your personal page or another group page is a popular way to show everyone else their inappropriate or unpleasant behavior. In some situations this reaction may be merited. When the person has joined a group with the understanding that their membership in the group and what they say is private, it is not.
Trolling, harassment, or disagreements that disrupt the work of the group should be dealt with inside the group, and quietly reported to the group moderators. If nothing is done, delete and block everyone involved and leave the group. Unless the situation escalates to the point that you need to provide the person’s name to law enforcement, there is never any excuse for “outing” someone for dealing with an issue they may wish to keep private.
Online groups can be confusing. It can be hard to tell what the group is for, and how serious everyone posting is about confronting the stated issue or spreading awareness. But they can also be useful sources of support and/ or information if approached carefully.
In an article titled, Painful Internet Truths, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy was briefly mentioned. Today, we take a deeper look at this issue, and the way it is often portrayed in the arts.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MSBP) is a form of domestic and/or child abuse in which the perpetrator/abuser creates, invents, or exaggerates the target/victim’s health problems for personal gain. MSBP is not a single isolated incident, but a pattern that is carried on for as long as the perpetrator can get away with it.
In MSBP, the primary goal of the perpetrator is to establish an identity for themselves as a devoted and loving caretaker for a disabled or sick person, and gain the attention and admiration that identity typically brings. The perpetrator may also have secondary goals, such as getting money, gifts, or benefits, or using a child to control a spouse or former spouse in divorce proceedings or other breakup.
Because the disorder is most often seen with a parent or other steady caregiver as the perpetrator and the child as the target/victim, parent and child relationship red flags are the most common. However, MSBP can exist between people in other relationships, such as spouses, adults living with elderly or infirm parents to provide care, or live-in personal care aides and clients.
While art almost always illuminates issues, provides a voice for those with a legitimate complaint, generates compassion by providing a glimpse into lives we have not led, inspires research and solutions to real problems, and/or provides pure entertainment, MSBP is one of those issues where film, novels, and other art forms tend to rely on over-dramatization and shock value. Most recently, the movie “Run” featured a victim doing things like scurrying across her roof on disabled legs, making a scene in a drug store as she raced away from her knife wielding mother in the wheelchair she didn’t truly need, and screaming for help in the middle of the road. In real MSBP, nobody is going to be pulling themselves across the roof by their arms or getting into a high speed chase in their wheelchair.
Here are ten real warning signs:
1.The parent (or other caregiver) takes the target to multiple health professionals, or makes regular visits to professionals with a reputation for selling diagnoses.
Munchausen by Proxy perpetrators work to create and maintain a medical record stating that their victim has the health issues the perpetrator has decided they have. They may accomplish this by “doctor shopping,” or taking their victim to a series of doctors until they are able to convince a doctor to make the diagnosis they want, or knowingly taking the victim to doctors with a reputation for falsifying medical forms in exchange for their fee.
2.The target/victim’s medical issues lessen or disappear when they’re separated from the abuser, or the diagnosis changes when the caregiver is no longer able to join them at the doctor’s office.
In many cases, the perpetrator is making the victim sick. The victim will then get better when the perpetrator is not around to sicken them. Even if the perpetrator is faking or exagerating the illness rather than poisoning, injuring, or otherwise directly creating medical issues for the victim, they will almost always hover and intimidate them into saying what they want, or will talk over them to manipulate the information the doctor receives. The diagnosis changes when the victim sees the doctor alone, because the doctor is able to examine the person without interference or inaccurate reports.
3.The caregiver’s knowledge of the victim’s alleged illnesses and/or disabilities seems extensive given their educational and professional background, but skewed or incomplete.
Learning every test, symptom, and treatment for a disorder and attempting to ingratiate themselves with medical staff by talking “as fellow experts” is common MSBP perpetrator behavior. At the same time, the person may deny information about the disorder that would fail to serve their purpose. For example, a parent with no medical training may know every medical procedure someone with the disability could possibly have, but brush off material that suggests children with this disorder benefit by being allowed to socialize with peers separate from the parent. Or they might not be able to provide basic information a doctor who actually did diagnose someone with the disability or illness would tell a caregiver, but be able to provide a startling amount of other information.
4.The target is observed doing things the perpetrator claims they cannot do, to the extent that a parent or other caregiver would not simply fail to realize the target had a specific skill or knew a specific fact.
It’s not at all uncommon for a parent to realize their child knows how to navigate the internet much better than they thought, or for the child to learn a few words in another language at school, or pick up another skill the parent does not know about. But if the parent or other caregiver is insisting the child, teen, or adult still living at home lacks significant insight, interests, abilities or skills the person clearly has, that is a warning sign. The perpetrator may insist the child cannot eat, even though they’re seen eating meals at school. Or they may behave as though their teen does not understand what dating and intimate relationships are, while the person talks at length about crushes and dream dates whenever the parent is out of earshot.
5. Behaviors that are normal or even expected for the target’s culture are treated as “problems” that need to be “corrected,” but only in their own dependent.
In the most common form of MSBP, where the child is the target and the parent is the perpetrator, this appears as a refusal to allow the child to grow up and/or grow attached to other people. The child may be punished for normal childhood behaviors, such as laughing loudly when playing with neighborhood kids, shamed and punished for getting their first crush, or humiliated and restricted when they express the desire to hang out with a peer group instead of their parents as they grow into their preteen and teen years. This is done to both perpetuate the image of the child being delayed and dependent in others’ eyes, and to keep control over the child as he or she grows up.
The same parent will have a completely different set of standards for everyone else. They may insist their nineteen-year-old daughter “can’t date,” but berate another parent for being too strict when they set the dating age at sixteen instead of fifteen. Or they might mock a forty year-old for moving back in with his parents after a divorce or job loss, insisting a grownup should be out on his own, but behave as though it’s perfectly natural that their forty-three year old has never lived outside of the family home.
6.The target/victim always seems to be “trying too hard” or afraid to be themselves.
Children and teens experiment with different identities and interests during the course of a completely healthy life. Most kids will pretend to like a band just because their friends like them, or not dare admit they don’t really care for sports when their friends are all obsessed with making the school team. But the kid who always seems to be looking for a new crowd to join, or who appears to go out of his or her way to be outrageous, funny, shocking, quirky, or just plain strange may be trying to distract from something serious going on at home, or hoping someone will “rescue” them.
They may also simply be afraid to be themselves. When you grow up with MSBP, you grow up conditioned to believe that people will only care for you if you present and perform the way they want you to all of the time, in every way. When they meet new people, and those people are kind to them, or they happen upon a group of people they think might be kind to them, they’re conditioned to immediately start dressing, acting, and pretending to think like those people in order to gain acceptance.
7.Treatment for the target’s illnesses or disabilities is sporadic.
The perpetrator may insist their child needs to go to physical therapy every week, behavioral counseling twice a week, and occupational therapy once a week, stick to that for weeks, months, or even years. They may then stop one or all of those suddenly, despite acting like it was vital just a week before.
This is likely due to professionals getting too close to the truth, or the perpetrator becoming paranoid they will be discovered to be faking the target’s issues.
8.The perpetrator talks at length about sacrificing for the target, and often uses the person’s care as an excuse to get out of things they do not wish to do, but rarely if ever gives up something they want.
MSBP perpetrators promote a narrative that they have given up their hopes, dreams, wants, and even basic needs to devote to the care of their child or other person in their home.
On the surface, this often appears to be true. A parent may insist the reason they don’t have a paying job is because caring for the child is their full time job. A spouse who victimizes his partner in this way may claim he cannot clean the house or go back to school because his partner’s care takes up all his time. But the perpetrator will rarely, if ever, make a true sacrifice for the target. They may move the person away from resources they would need if the condition were genuine upon finding their own dream home, spend money on themselves before investing in improved care, or use funds, benefits, or other support the target has received for their illness or disability on their own wants.
9.The perpetrator has an extreme love/hate relationship with clinics, hospitals, or other medical settings.
When things are going according to the perpetrator’s wants and needs, they will often behave as though the doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital is their absolute favorite place on earth. They may greet the doctors and other hospital staff as though they’re old friends, make themselves at home in the hospital room or exam room right away, and light up when describing the target’s supposed medical issues, basking in the attention.
Should someone on staff begin to ask too many uncomfortable questions or challenge them, the hospital staff who was a second family to them a minute before will suddenly turn into their worst enemy. The perpetrator will flee, vowing never to return, with nothing nice to say about the place they used to treat as a second home.
10. The target seems inappropriately controlled by the perpetrator.
Extreme and/or inappropriate levels of control over another person is a red flag for any form of domestic abuse, and is certainly present in MSBP cases. The target may need to ask their parent if they are allowed to eat a piece of candy, even though they’re sixteen years old and plenty old enough to make that decision on their own, or they may be an adult living at home, but still be expected to ask their parents if they can go to the mall with a friend.
The target may seem strangely afraid of punishment should they displease the perpetrator. A victimized spouse might beg friends not to tell their partner they were out of their wheelchair, or an adult son or daughter might behave as though they were going to be grounded for arriving home too late.
Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is a relatively rare, but serious disorder. Because we are often led to look for dramatic signs, it can also be easy to miss. Its targets/victims may not need a valiant, Hollywood movie style rescue….or the treatment they’ve grown to believe they need, but they do need understanding, support, and respect as they heal from this very serious form of abuse.
As Fall brought a new crop of career changers, it also brought a new crop of work related scams. Just a few weeks later, the scammers seemed to want to remind us they have not forgotten how to scam people in other areas as well. Here are just a few of the most popular non-work related scams this season.
A major corporation wants to apologize to you for poor service by giving you a prize or gift card.
People are still struggling to find work they can actually take and pay their bills, kids are back in school offline, and the holidays are on the way. Many of us could use a break on a bill so we can amend the budget a little this month, or some “free to us” merchandise to use as Christmas gifts. And the scammers know it.
The company name varies, but it is typically a major service corporation, like a phone or electric company. Messages designed to look like they came from T Mobile seem to be especially common. These texts claim the company wants to apologize for a disruption in service, or for poor service, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The apology will come in the form of a gift card to the company to use toward their service or another popular retailer, or a special prize.
While this scam will be immediately obvious when the message is supposed to be from a company the target does not do business with, it can be easy to thoughtlessly click the link when it looks like it might be something related to one of our bills.
Never click these links. This scam has been widely reported as new this year, and the detail about Covid certainly is, but the scam itself has been around for at least seven years. It is a classic spoofing scam, designed to get targets to click on the links so that malware or spyware can be installed on their computer. You will not get a gift card or a prize. But the scammers certainly will. They’ll “win” access to your bank account and other financial records.
If you’re in the LGBTQ community, that new love interest you met online is going to humiliate and/or out you if you do not send them money.
Online dating is growing increasingly common and acceptable, with dating sites set up for people fitting a wide variety of descriptions. But if you are lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or identify as “queer,” take special precautions when talking to people on LGBTQ sites. Scammers pretending to be members of your community are infiltrating these sites with the goal of extorting money.
Things seem normal at first, if a little fast. You and your new online crush are happily getting to know each other, when they get you to reveal something private. Persuading the target to send revealing photos is a common tactic. They may also strike up conversations that urge you to share private details about your life.
Once they have this material, the scammer then reveals their true motive. They inform you that if you do not send them money, whatever you have shared will be sent to your family, friends, clients, supervisors, or anywhere else it might cause serious problems in your life. They may even taunt you with details like the names of your family members or the location of your workplace to make the threat seem real.
Should this happen to you, never send the money. The scammer is not sincere in his or her offer to destroy the material once the money is sent. While nobody can promise a scammer won’t actually send your personal materials to the last person you would want to see them, this is typically far too much effort for a scammer. Their only intention is to scare as many people as possible into sending them money as quickly as possible. If you do not scare so easily, it is more lucrative for them to move on quickly to the next target than to bother sending out blackmail messages and waiting for you to fall apart again.
Instead, immediately report the account to the site you’re on, and file a report with the internet crime complaint center at: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint
One of your favorite stores is practically giving away something you’ve been wanting.
Like the “apology gift card” scam, this one plays on the fact that many people are still adjusting to the gradual return to in-person work and school as the holidays arrive. Scammers set up fake online storefronts and shopping sites, offering items everyone wants for Christmas, at prices anyone can afford.
At first glance, fake shopping websites appear to be simply outlet or resell sites. But the prices seem almost too good to be true. And that’s because they are. Should you order something from them, the most likely outcome is that you will never receive your order, and will not be able to contact anyone about getting your money back. Sometimes, you do receive a package, but it will be an item of much lower quality, and worth much less than the amount you sent the scammer. Sending the scammer $200 for a guitar or a handbag that typically sells for $1,200 might get you nothing more than a flimsy knockoff, broken, or even toy item that bears no resemblance to the photo and description on the site.
The only way to avoid being scammed by these sites is to avoid them entirely. Always go directly to known, trusted sites when you want to shop online, and carefully check that the website address is the official address of the store you meant to visit. Merchandise from Amazon will always be on “Amazon dot com,” not “Amazon deals dot com” or “Amazon outlet dot com.” Your friends’ Etsy shops are searchable from “Etsy dot com,” not “Esty dot net.”
If you absolutely need a deeply discounted item, wait for sales, coupon, or visit local thrift stores and yard sales.
The perfect puppy or kitten for your family is easy to find and purchase on a social media group dedicated to your favorite breed.
This scam seems to be the evergreen content of the scammer playbook. It never really goes away, they just update and refresh it from time to time, adding a bit more to it to attract a new audience….full of victims.
The basic scam is the same one from many times before. You love dogs, and have an especially soft spot in your heart for Chihuahuas, Pugs, Boston Terriers, or some other breed, so you join an enthusiast or owners group or two. Scattered in between people sharing cute stories and photos of their own pets are ads from people claiming their own beloved pet just had a litter, and they’re offering them at a reasonable price. In a newer twist, some claim the litter belongs to someone else, is unwanted, and the person posting is finding the puppies a home out of the goodness of their heart.
One particular puppy captures your heart. You contact the person, make a deposit through some type of online money transfer service, and travel to meet your new bundle of fur at the agreed upon public place. Nobody ever shows up with your puppy. And they never will. They will also never respond to your messages asking for your money back.
There was never any unwanted litter, and nobody’s beloved pet had puppies or kittens who needed homes. Scammers steal pictures from breeders’ websites, animal shelters, or image searches, save them, and change the caption to make them look like their photos.
The only way to avoid this scam is to never purchase or pay an adoption fee for a pet online. Ideally, adopt a pet from your local shelter. If that is not possible, or if you see an ad for a pet online and feel called to respond, make no promises and hand over no money until the pet is with you, physically and offline.
Don’t be mislead by a picture of the person you’re talking to and the pet or litter together, or even seeing the person and the pet on Zoom together. They could be be running a scam using their own pet they have no intention of rehoming, a friend’s pet, or an animal they’re pet sitting.
Keep a lookout for these, and other scams, as we head into the start of the holiday season. Even if you would never be taken in, let’s keep vigilant and protect each other.