Thinking about scams during the holiday season is difficult. It is the time to focus on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who taught us to love, serve, and care for one another in both word and deed. We should be focused on caring for the sick, meeting the needs of those who lack basic resources, showing our partners, families, and friends how much we love them, and reminding the world that despite all worldly evidence to the contrary, Hope did indeed arrive.
Sadly, in today’s world, loving and serving others often includes protecting each other from scams. Here are just a few of the more common scams making the rounds as we look toward the 2022 Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
Missed deliveries texts
We all tend to buy a bit more during this time of year. Even those of us who are careful to avoid the excessive consumerism and flat out greed that can taint the holiday season are probably going to buy a few Christmas presents. And with all the sales and specials, the holiday season is a completely reasonable time to add a little treat for ourselves in there too.
With so many more packages showing up at the door than normal, it is entirely possible to miss a delivery. Drivers have a lot more work to do, they get tired, and your package winds up in some weird spot around the back of your building where you never go, or slides under your porch. Or maybe they were supposed to get your signature, and you were not home, so they had to take the package back until you contacted them.
But whether you are looking around for your lost order, or a delivery driver has an order they need to pass on to you, the communication will never be initiated or carried out through a vague text. If your package does not show up, you of course call or email the company you ordered the items from. They will always respond to you by calling back the number you gave them, replying to the email you sent, or contacting you via the information you provided in their online form. Details of your original message will be included in all correspondence or communication. A delivery you still need to sign for will still be communicated to you the old-fashioned way, with a notice in place of the package.
Vague text messages from Amazon or any other company you may buy from referencing a “delivery” are scams. Clicking on them may open your device up to malware that allows the scammer access to information on your computer. They may also be waiting to ask you to pay a “delivery fee” to get the package. The best defense against this scam is to instantly delete all such text messages. If you are legitimately missing a package, contact the company you purchased the item from directly.
Gift exchanges with strangers online
On the surface, this sounds like a wonderful way to serve others, make new friends, and collect some fun items for yourself, to give as gifts, or to resell as a little holiday side hustle. You are offered a spot in a “Secret Santa,” “Secret Sister” or even “Secret Dog” exchange. Participation is easy. All you have to do is add your name, mailing address, and other contact information to a list. Then, just buy a small, reasonable gift for the person you are assigned to buy for. It may be a bottle of wine, a dog toy, a Christmas tree ornament, or a small gift card. Finally, sit back and wait. Several people will have gotten your name, and you will receive a collection of wine, dog toys, ornaments, or small gift cards from new friends around the country or even the world.
Except this does not happen. These “Secret” Santa/Sister/Dog/Whatever online gift exchanges are nothing more than the tech savvy version of the classic illegal pyramid scheme. The vast majority of the people who participate get nothing, and meet nobody.
Rather than falling prey to these schemes, host a gift exchange for a group of family and friends that you already know. If you would like to anonymously bless a stranger, participate in one of the many “Angel tree” programs in your community. You can choose to buy Christmas gifts for a family, child, or lonely individual who lives in a nursing home by selecting a tag from a tree sponsored by a local business. These trees are run by legitimate charities, and you can trust that your gift will truly be used to bless someone.
Pet adoption scams
Giving a pet as a Christmas gift should be done with extreme caution, even in the best situations.. Before you even offer to get somebody a pet, you need to make sure that person has a safe environment for the pet to live in, and is prepared to pay for food, vet bills, and supplies the pet will need. Your friend might be a wonderful person who loves cats, but if his house is cluttered with items that might fall on a small animal and cause injury, he does not need a kitten. Or they might love German Shepherds and wish they could have a puppy, but live in a tiny apartment and work day and night, meaning the dog would be left alone in a cramped space most of the time. Perhaps your friend is already an amazing pet parent, but simply cannot afford another pet.
Even if you are one hundred percent certain the recipient and the pet would be blessings to each other, or if this holiday season is the right time to add a new pet to your own family, there is still the risk of the pet adoption scam. Scammers love this one because it’s too easy. All they have to do is steal a few cute pictures and/or videos of a pet, pretend it’s an animal they are looking to rehome, and wait for somebody to offer them the “fee” for the pet that they do not even own.
Never give anyone money for any pet until the animal is physically with you and/or its new owner. And Zoom does not count as being “together” in this situation. A scammer could easily use his or her own pet in the scam, promising that the dog or cat they are holding up to the camera is your new pet, while having no intention of giving it to you.
Scams may be unpleasant to think about during the holidays. But they are even more hurtful to experience at this time of year. Look out for each other.
We would all prefer to think scammers live far away. They operate in organized rings in far off countries, and their scams are nothing personal. Numbers are stolen, copied, and spoofed at random, and the only reason the scammer is trying to trick you into giving them money is because you happened to pick up the phone or reply to the email. And in most cases, this is true. But there are dishonest people everywhere, including in our own country, state, and community.
Most of these scams are copied from the more large-scale, impersonal scams. American romance scammers are online to trick people into thinking they’re in a relationship with, engaged to, or even married to someone who either does not exist or is living a life that does not exist. Someone you encounter in a national facebook group pretending to be disabled in order to gain attention and sympathy (Munchaussen by Internet) is going to behave pretty much the same way as someone doing the same thing in a local group. The red flags are going to be the same or very similar.
Scammers who run heartstrings scams on those they either know or are willing to meet offline will also display some of the same signs of deceit, but there are some more unique red flags.
The person resists local resources that would help them solve the problem.
While there are legitimate reasons someone might not be able to easily reach out to a local agency or organization designed to meet their need, constant rejection of available resources may be a sign that the person is looking to do something other than fill a need.
The person joins a “helping hands” group and announces that they are in need of food. People respond with information designed to help the person apply for EBT, sign up for meal programs, even obtain food from the local food pantries available that day. The original poster then insists they do not have transportation or proper identification. Someone explains what they need to do to get transportation and identification. They come back insisting they also need child care. When someone explains how to solve that problem in their area, they suddenly can’t be away from the house for that length of time for some other reason. Only someone’s money or gift will save the day.
Only cash, cash gift cards, or items with a high resale value are acceptable.
Sometimes, people are happy to help others, but are not comfortable giving out cash or those gift cards that are basically cash on a card for whatever reason. They may be happy to help someone put gas in their car, but would prefer to give the person a gift card to the store where they purchase their gas than cash or a Visa gift card. Or they may be willing to bring someone else some food or a gift card to a grocery store, but not want to just hand them money for groceries.
Someone in genuine need of gas or groceries would be likely to accept the help in whatever form their new friend offered that help, as long as it met their need. If they really need food, a gift card to Hannaford or Instacart or Aldi would help. A person inventing situations that do not exist in order to get free money may refuse the direct help and insist they must be given cash or a cash card.
Before the baby formula shortage, baby formula was a common tool in this scam. The scammer would post to a group local to them and ask for formula for a hungry baby that did not exist. They would insist they could only accept cash or cans of formula. Even a gift card to the grocery store would be rejected with the excuse that the person did not have time to register it, or they couldn’t be sure there was actually money on it. Pleas would increase until someone gave the person the formula directly. The formula would then be listed for sale in another group.
The problem never gets solved, no matter how many people step in to help.
Each year around the holidays, a woman was in the habit of posting in multiple “helping hands” groups looking for help. She always said she did not have anything to make a Christmas for her kids. The town where she lived was not like Utica; people were not likely to be generous to someone else unless that person had the “right” connections, or being generous would result in publicity for the giver. But this woman found some people willing to help her. One other woman gave her an entire set of Christmas decorations. Somebody else responded that they would be happy to bring her everything she needed to make cookies with her kids as both a holiday activity and a treat. These same two people also made sure the one in need knew how to sign up for the “angel trees” sponsored by larger corporations with local branches.
But the original poster just kept rejecting everything, while posting repeatedly that she had nothing to make a Christmas for her kids. When the people who did reach out to help her finally got frustrated and asked, “What happened to all those Christmas decorations I gave you last year?” she disappeared. It had been a cash scam all along.
One need after another is posted from the same account.
First, the person needed clothes for work. Someone gave them the right clothes for their new job. The next day, they needed money for gas for their car. They were helped. Two days later, the same account posted in the same group seeking kitchen items.
This alone is not a red flag for a scam. If this is the only pattern the person is showing, they are much more likely to be someone in need who sees nowhere else to turn than a person running a resale scam. But if you see this paired with another red flag, such as the person resisting all local resources and constantly claiming one need after another, this may be a red flag.
The best defense against these types of scams is simply thinking things through before you decide to make a donation outside of your church, workplace, or other verified organization. There isn’t much that can be done if you willingly handed over materials or money, even if the person was lying to you. Should you notice a pattern of these red flags, reach out to the owner of the group.
People who work in direct sales are often accused of scamming others. In some cases, these accusations have some merit. There are direct sales companies known for overcharging for sign up kits, placing unreasonable demands on their salesforce, and forcing people to pay to attend meetings and conferences only to line the pockets of the corporation. And you will find some people perfectly willing to go along with this in the hope of lining their own pockets. But most people who sign up to sell products for a corporation are just trying to make some money, improve their confidence through gaining sales experience, earn some free products, or widen their social circle. These people are often the target of scams.
“Invitations” to join groups that require you to pay to play games or participate in a program that will result in exponential sales growth for your products.
Joining any online group for direct sales representatives will generate a little crowd of people who seem to like everything you say. They like you so much, in fact, they think you would be “perfect” for their game group. It’s great fun. You pay to play a game, and if you win, somebody is going to place a huge order through your company webpage.
Other versions of this scam are presented as business courses. They tell you how perfect you would be for their program. All you have to do is sign up, and they will teach you all the secrets to selling your products, or building your downline.
These do not result in increased sales. The “games” exist only to collect entry fees from people. You aren’t going to win an order. The business programs are completely unnecessary. The company you signed up to work for will have their own training materials, included with the fees you already paid or have agreed to pay when you signed up. Never pay out any money to anyone outside your company to sell their products.
Texts asking you to email a potential customer to discuss an order
I am a mostly personal use Avon representative. While I do not actively sell the products, I do post my digital brochures online, mention Avon in passing, and make the occasional post or reference to it in the hope that a few people will place orders. Avon is one of about three cosmetics brands that I can use without having an allergic reaction, and my goal is to earn the eyeliners, mascara, lipsticks and glosses, and fragrance I wear for free.
Because I am not passing out brochures, setting up booths at craft or community fairs, or approaching people and striking up conversations designed to sell Avon, I make my phone number and professional email public in case someone wants to ask me if we have purple eyeliner or which moisturizer I like best before they place their order. Sometimes, I get these expected questions. Then there are the texts that give me what looks like a potential customer’s email address. The sender tells me they are planning to make a major purchase from me, for an important event, and they need me to email them to discuss the order.
These may look like real customers, but they are in fact scams. The person you are talking to has no intention of buying anything from you. No matter how important the event, someone buying Avon…or the products from any other direct sales company....would be perfectly able to ask the sales representative any questions they might have in that first text itself.
Responding to these messages with your email address will only give the scammer the opportunity to send malware designed to gain access to your computer's contents. This can include your login information for your bank and credit card accounts. On your screen, the email you get back from this person will still look like a message from a legitimate customer. It may have questions about products, or a note thanking you for being willing to fill such a large order. But you will never hear from them again after that, and no order will be made. You won't even know the email contained malware until you see the evidence that someone has hacked into your computer.
Customers who use your complimentary services and samples as a form of dishonest couponing
Representatives/consultants who host offline sales parties are especially vulnerable to this one. Direct sales have been around long enough for it to be common knowledge that booking a demonstration/party of a company’s products can provide low cost, or even free entertainment. They can gather a group of friends at their house, invite a representative from a company that sells cosmetics over to do a sales presentation, and everyone gets a free makeover or facial. Someone selling household goods might provide free snacks. Salespeople from companies that sell clothing, lingerie, or other products customers might be embarrassed to purchase in stores might find their sales demonstration doubling as anything from a fashion show to a bachelorette party. While there is nothing wrong with this, it is dishonest for someone who knows that they and their guests will not be making a purchase to pretend that they might in order to get the free event.
Another version of this scam occurs when a person simply pretends they're planning to buy from you, gets as many samples as you will give them, and then never makes a purchase.
There will be nothing you can do about this scam the first time it happens. After all, you cannot force the attendants of the party to make a purchase, and you will have no way of knowing the person who asked you for a bunch of samples has no intention of buying from you the first time they ask. But you can refuse to book a second party or demonstration with the client, or to give them any more samples.
Scams can happen to anyone, in any industry. These are just a few of the scams you may encounter if you decide to work in direct sales. Look out for those in your upline and downline, your friends and family, and yourself.
Getting a text from a wrong number is no big deal most of the time. Dialing a wrong number happens to pretty much everyone at some point. Your hands are sweaty, and your finger slips. Or it’s too dark or too bright and you can’t quite see your keypad. Or maybe somebody wrote a number down, and their handwriting is hard to read. The person apologizes, you accept their apology, and it’s forgotten. Sometimes, it’s slightly less pleasant than that. The person argues with you, refuses to believe they have the wrong number, or insists you’re somehow to blame for them not being able to reach the person they want. But a quick delete and block takes care of those situations.
At least that used to be all that was going on when someone accidentally texted your phone. Today, wrong number texts are part of an increasingly common scam.
The wrong number scam begins with a text that is clearly meant for somebody else’s phone. It might say, “Hey do you have time to do a haircut and perm today at 3?” when you are not a cosmetologist or in any way connected with the beauty industry, or “How much to have my brakes checked?” when cars are not your field. Sometimes, the person calls you by someone else’s name, or asks a personal question that is clearly not for you.
You respond with, “I’m sorry, but you have a wrong number,” delete the message, and go on about your day. The person texts you back. You check the phone, expecting them to have simply responded with “I’m sorry,” or “sorry, wrong number.” But this person seems to feel genuinely bad. They not only apologize, they tell you a little bit about their hectic day. You reply by noting that this does sound rough, but they shouldn’t worry, as they did not disrupt your work or interrupt anything important. You brush it off again, thinking that will surely be the end of it.
To your surprise, the person keeps talking to you. They seem like a genuinely nice person. They ask you who it is they bothered, inviting you to introduce yourself. You converse with them for a few minutes, figuring this is either just a stressed out, lonely person or somebody hoping to turn this into a harmless, but funny story for their friends.
Soon, your new friend is telling you all about their adventures investing in cryptocurrency. They would like to know if you would be interested in investing in cryptocurrency too, and are more than happy to help you.
At this point, it may still seem harmless. Even if you have no interest in ever investing in cryptocurrency, it might be interesting to learn a bit more about it, and hear of others’ experiences with something so many people are doing today. And if cryptocurrency is an interest of yours, this seems like a fun way to learn a little more before you do any investing of your own.
You keep in touch with your new friend, swapping casual, friendly messages. They are particularly interested in sharing their new passion, investing in cryptocurrency, with you.
But buried in their chatty “information,” and “coaching” will be their real goal. They will begin to insist that they can help you earn money through cryptocurrency. And you do not even have to do any work. Your new friend can get you started if you will just trust them with your account information. And of course, your account information is all they really wanted all along.
The “wrong number scam” is new, only widely reported in the press over the past year. But it is a blend of two “classic” scams. At its core, this is the same scam as the “fake charge scam,” where the scammer sends you an alert that there has been a charge to an account in your name, or suspicious activity on your account, and you need only to provide them with your account details so they can straighten everything out for you. It is also a “love scam,” in this case, a platonic friendship scam. Just as the scammer in the classic romantic love scam works to convince their target that they are someone who has fallen in love with them, the scammer in the wrong number scam attempts to make their intended victim believe they have made a new platonic friend.
There does not appear to be any malware or spyware attached to this scam, making it easy to completely prevent. When you receive a text from a wrong number, let the person know one time that they have dialed a wrong number. When they apologize, respond with “No problem,” and have no further contact with them. Delete and block any wrong numbers whose owners try to strike up a conversation with you. Don’t be swayed by any endearing or moving life stories the person may share. Platonic friendship scammers can copy and paste complete strangers’ facebook statuses, emails from computers they’ve hacked into, and other online communication just as easily as romance scammers can steal love letters and profile information.
Conventional work wisdom says that the best way to find work is to network. Searching ads, sending out applications and resumes, and walking into businesses to talk to the manager may yield desired results for some people, but the best way to find the work you’re looking for is to reach out to people you know who are in a position to hire you, and people who might be connected to those people. This makes the cloning work scam particularly lucrative for scammers,
The con begins with a classic case of facebook account cloning, sometimes called spoofing. We have all gotten the non-work version of this scam. Somebody on our friends list appears to send us a message, but when we open it, all they have to say to us is “Is this you?” or “Look at this video I found of you!” with a link we can click on. These messages are not from the person they appear to be from. The scammer has stolen their profile photo, their name, and any other details they can copy, and created a second account that they control. Clicking on the link opens your computer up to the scammer’s malware, allowing them access to your financial accounts and other personal information.
To run the work scam, the scammer does the same thing with a local facebook account, only instead of sending messages to the person’s friends, they post a job ad in local groups. A recent ad circulating around the Utica area offers the opportunity to work from home doing data entry for $25 per hour. Group members are asked to private message the account for more details.
Once you send a message inquiring about the job, you receive the following reply:
“This is an online and work from home job the working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice,the pay is $25 per hour training is $15 per hour and you will be getting payed weekly via direct deposit or credit card top up and the maximum amount you can work a week is 40 hours. I believe working from home will not be a problem for you ?”
Notice that although the account appears to be someone in your community working in a data entry job, the grammar, spelling, and word choice are incorrect and awkward. It is also noteworthy that the company can only pay you in ways that require you to give them your banking and/or credit card information.
Once you assure them that working from home will not be a problem for you, they say, “Okay good. Job Description & Responsibilities. Data entry is all about speed, accuracy, and attention to detail. You enters information into computer databases for effective record keeping. Daily responsibilities include: Organizing files and collecting data to be entered into the computer and appropriate software entering. I'm sure you can handle all this as a Data. Entry clerk ?”
Again, they are recruiting for a job that requires accuracy and attention to detail, yet their dialogue is barely readable, and contains mistakes and strange phrasing, even in that short message.
Further messages include pressure to download their preferred private messenger app from the Google store, so that you can communicate with the hiring manager.
At this point, it may still be tempting to convince yourself that this is genuine. After all, you do give your direct deposit information to any job that offers direct deposit once you’re hired. And many Americans who speak English as their native language do have poor written communication skills these days. Seeing posts that say “Your doing great!” instead of the correct “You’re doing great!” or “What are there hours?” instead of “What are their hours?” is far from uncommon. And we use “positive” and “negative” to refer to anything that pleases or displeases us on any level.
But even a person who forgets basic grammar and uses the same two words for everything can understand and answer a direct question in their native language, especially when the question is one they would likely hear and be expected to answer on a regular basis. There is no reason why a fully functioning, native English speaking adult whose job involves recruiting others to work for their company would not be able to understand and answer the question, “What is a typical work day like for you?” The person you are talking to when responding to these ads cannot do that.
“They like to see an had working and fast people,” was the first answer I received to that question. I asked it again, using slightly different phrasing. The answer was, “I work 30hrs week.” When I tried a third time, they said, “You can work as hours you want to in a day Once you start the interview you will understand everything”
“But what is a day of work like for you as an employee?” I asked.
“I work from Monday til Friday,” the scammer said.
“Can you describe a typical workday?” I then asked.
“I don’t no the kind of job that is available right now When you start your interview you will be good,” said the scammer.
Before blocking them, I tossed out a couple of silly questions and statements, just to see if they could even follow a conversation. The scammer I talked to can pick up on a few words. They asked if I was only focused on the money when I asked if I could earn millions of dollars, responding, “Are you looking after the money or.” I assured them that no, I also wanted a job that would allow me enough time to teach my dog to drive. They said, “Your dog to drive Wow I don’t know dog also drive car.”
This is clearly not really someone working for a company that demands anything fast and accurate, unless you count quickly collecting the credit card and bank account information of their scam victims.
In order to learn the details of the scam, I interacted with this account even more than I should have. The best response is to simply report any of these “looking for people to do data entry at home” job ads to the group administrator right away. And if you happen to know the person whose name, photo, and other details are being used, let them know what’s going on.
When looking at job ads on social media, respond only to those posted by an established local business or a well-known professional. Make sure the content makes sense, such as a hairdresser posting that they have space for another stylist, or a hotel seeking a desk clerk. If they offer an application on Indeed dot com or through their website, or provide email or phone contact information, use it rather than sending everything in social media messaging.
If you must communicate with a prospective employer or client through social media, spend enough time chatting with them to determine that you are communicating with the person presented. Never give out your banking information or any other sensitive information until you have been given and completed a W-4 form, or signed an independent contractor agreement, with an established company. Taking extra steps may seem like a hassle, especially when you need work right away, but it would take a lot more time and energy to deal with identity theft or a drained bank account.
This spring, the famed Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo, is coming to Utica. According to Caputo’s official website, she has been in communication with an entity she refers to as “Spirit” since she was four years old. In her twenties, she claims to have begun honing that ability into her current practice, which is talking to people in Heaven through “Spirit.”
Perhaps one of the cruelest scams, psychic mediums prey on one of our deepest emotions, our love for the family members and friends who have passed on. We want to know that they are okay. We miss them being here with us on earth. We wish we could have just one more hug, one more of our long chats over coffee, our girls’ nights, our boys’ nights out, our family gatherings, or our quiet afternoons alone with the one we miss. Psychic mediums offer us the closest we can get to that experience.
Or at least they would, if the services offered by psychic mediums were not scams.
Here is what really happens when you visit a psychic medium. First, the psychic will claim that they are just beginning to get a picture or a message. They will throw out some vague terms. “I sense a man. He passed on.. a…heart…I’m getting something to do with his heart.”
No matter who you are, you are very likely to have some connection to someone who is male, who passed on when their heart stopped beating. Having a great-grandfather, grandfather, father, husband, brother, close male platonic friend, boyfriend, fiance, cousin you saw every year at the family picnic, or favorite uncle who died of a heart attack or stroke qualifies you to start waving your hand around in a group setting, or lean forward and say “yes” if you’re one on one with the psychic.So does having any of those relationships to a man who died of something else, but had a weak heart, or had a weak heart that later became strong. Or maybe none of that applies to you. But then you probably had a supervisor, or a coworker at some point who you later heard had died because of something related to his heart, or who had a bad heart but died of something else. You can jump in over that too. And if that’s still not you…didn’t your Mom once tell you that you had a great Uncle that you never met, who died of a heart attack, or who had a heart attack when he was young, then lived a long life for his time? Better raise your hand. Somebody from a few generations back in your family might have a message for everybody on earth today.
Once somebody responds in this way, starts waving their hand, nods, or does anything to indicate they’re falling for it, the psychic begins to insist they are getting “more details.” And they are, from you, because if you went for the first piece of bait, you said something they could use. Maybe it was “That’s my Dad!” or maybe it was, “Ehhh…I think my boss at my first job had a cousin who died of a heart attack. I remember we all had to work longer because he was gone that day for a funeral..” Either way, the psychic now knows enough to keep throwing out more slightly less vague details.
You think the psychic is gradually picking up clearer and clearer details from “Spirit” or “an angel” or your loved one, or all of the above, but all they’re really doing is throwing out word prompts, waiting for you to offer up more details, then incorporating those details into increasingly personal prompts until you and everyone around you believes you were talking to someone from Heaven. The “conversation” typically ends with some loving message that we want to believe because it’s what we want to hear. Notice that no psychic reading ever goes, “This is the third cousin to your ancestor from eight generations back. We’re allowed to look down upon Earth from here, but I rarely take my turn because I keep seeing you, and you bore me.”
And this is just when the psychic does a true “cold reading.” They..or someone who works for them, may also be scanning the audience for clues in peoples’ clothing, demeanor, or behavior before they begin, learning names of audience members or customers and searching for information about you online, or even sending someone out to walk around and take note of what they overhear.
And that is just the secular, mundane part of the explanation. Those who believe in the Bible as the word of God should remember that some messages passed on through psychic mediums may indeed be flashes of information the person randomly got into their head and decided to blurt out, but those will have come from agents of the enemy, or demons, not from your loved one in Heaven.Their goal is to get you to talk to them instead of Jesus, and they are not above using your love for someone in Heaven to do that.
According to the Bible, you do not need a psychic medium to know of the fate of your loved ones. Your loved ones who have accepted Jesus Christ are indeed alive and well and with Him in Heaven. Nobody truly knows if they can see or hear anything that goes on over here on earth. Some believe they can. Others don’t think so. A search for the answer to the question, “Can people in Heaven see us?” and “Christian” or “Bible” results in articles in which pastors offer their own opinion and cite passages to back it up, but admit that there is no definitive answer either way.
What is clear is that we cannot needle, coax, call, or force anybody to revisit earth in any form and talk to us. We are going to have to wait until we see them again when we get there.
Anyone claiming otherwise is only out for power and control over you, money, or both. To truly honor and remember someone who has passed on, take the money you were going to spend on the psychic medium and use it to further the work that person did here on earth. Make a donation to their beloved club, church, or synagogue, or pass it on to help the homeless, or animals, or children. Plant a flower, or a whole garden in their name, or start a project dedicated to their memory.
by Jess Szabo'
originally published 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
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.
As more and more people receive the Covid-19 vaccine, more and more people are looking for regular jobs to replace income lost during shutdown, side jobs to fund vacations they’re still waiting to take, and second jobs to pay down accumulated bills. Local independent artists are typically in need of funds for supplies, instruments, recording sessions, gallery space, work space, and networking. All this job seeking has, sadly, not gone unnoticed by scammers. Here are just a few of the most popular work and money related scams circulating as we head into Fall 2021.
A Japanese steel company thinks you would make a great debt collection representative for their corporation.
On August 25 of this year, I received the following email from someone using the name Nathan Baker:” I reviewed your info on LinkedIn and I would like to know if you are available to work with my company on a contract. “
This was obviously a copy and paste document sent to several people at random, but I wanted to learn the details of the scam, so I pretended to fall for it and asked for more information about the company. Today, I received a reply from a Japanese steel company. The email explained that I would be working as a debt collection agent. I would only need to work an hour per day. For working one hour per day, I would earn five per cent of all debt I collected, plus a four-thousand dollar per month stipend to cover expenses.
Had I not realized it was a scam from the beginning, the terms of that offer would make it obvious. Nobody is going to pay you $4,000 every month to make phone calls and send emails and faxes for an hour per day, plus give you 5% of everything you collect. The form they asked me to fill out and send back didn’t ask for my bank account information or anything else they could use to commit identity theft, so I did some general internet research about the scam.
The earliest mention of it cropped up in 2012, with previous resurfacing in 2015 and 2017. The scammers have simply come back for another try for the fall of 2021.
It appears to be a bad check scheme. If someone were to take the job, they would find themselves extraordinarily successful. The first person they called would apologize profusely and immediately send them a check for the amount they owed the Japanese company. The “debt collector” would be asked to deposit that check into their own account and send 95% to the company, keeping 5%. In reality, the person the “debt collector” contacted would be another scammer in the same ring, and the check would be fake. This means the “debt collector” just sent the “Japanese company,” a large amount of money from their own account, and if they did not have sufficient funds to cover that amount, they would be liable for it, as well as any fees associated with writing a bad check or making a withdrawal with insufficient funds. The $4,000 per month salary would never show up.
This scam uses the names and descriptions of what appear to be legitimate Japanese companies, and relies on the image of Japanese people as both rich capitalist “salarymen” and gentle, easygoing, generous souls who always aim to live in peaceful harmony with others. And while both good jobs with high salaries and respect and harmony are valued in Japanese culture, so is intense study and hard work. Nobody, no matter how rich, generous, and eager to make things easy on others they may be, is going to pay a random stranger $4,000 per month to spend an hour each day doing something they could just as easily ask an employee who is already on the payroll and being compensated for their time, to do.
The Federal Trade Commission will send you Covid-19 relief funds.
Anyone who has ever searched seriously for a job knows the job search becomes a job itself. You spend time updating your resume and cover letter template, researching companies, and writing and sending out complete cover letters with that resume attached. You may even walk, ride the bus, or drive around town, stopping into places with signs announcing they’re hiring to drop off resumes and fill out paper applications. Some places call you for an in-person interview, necessitating another trip.
This can require you to spend money on everything from a new suit for interviews, to coffees and lunches out on days you don’t have time to go home, to copying and printing costs for your job search documents. It would be great if you could get a little grant to cover these costs, rather than paying from your own pocket. And when the job offer doesn’t come fast enough, some money to meet the expenses you need a job to cover would help too.
All of this would make it very tempting to respond to an email from the Federal Trade Commission, offering to send you additional Covid-19 relief funds. Don’t. These emails are from scammers trying to collect your bank account information. The Federal Trade Commission does not disperse Covid-19 relief funds. Those come from the Department of the Treasury. There is no additional nationwide Covid-19 relief stimulus payment coming as of the writing of this article, and were that to change, you would get your money the same way you received previous payments.
A spell can be cast, cards can be read, or someone can intuitively tell you what your financial and career future will be.
The arrival of Fall means Halloween is coming soon, and with it an interest in anything mysterious, including tarot cards, psychic readings, and spells.
Spiritually, all of these activities are dangerous whether money is involved or not. When you reach out into the spirit realm and ask for any type of assistance from anyone or anything who wishes to assist you, the response you get is going to be from an entity who serves the enemy of man. These entities are demonic, and they only wish you harm. They may disguise themselves as helpers, but in the end, they only wish for your destruction. I practiced Wicca off and on for twenty years before I learned this, so don’t be fooled by what might appear to be early success.
Anyone here on this earth who offers to perform any of these activities for you for a fee is also a money scammer. There is simply nothing you, or any other human here on this earth can do to secure you a job beyond the plain old-fashioned practical steps to getting a job you already know.
You can train for a whole new career by signing up for a series of seminars or a business coaching program.
The hunt for a second job or side job can start to feel like you’re not qualified to do anything but what you already do, and there are no steady jobs hiring there. While most of us consider ourselves blessed to be artists, we often wonder if we shouldn’t go back to school or complete the necessary training for a second career. And this may be the right decision for you. Just make sure the training program you are going into will actually lead to a career.
“Training programs” that offer nothing but a collection of advice, information, tips, and tricks are often scams. Always start with the job you hope to have some day, and work backward from there. Learn what degrees, licenses, apprenticeships, vocational training, and other experience that profession requires, and use professional organizations in that field to build a list of possible training or career preparation programs.
Avoid anyone who insists you can make large sums of money, easily enter a competitive field, or will have secrets that make it unnecessary to work hard simply by paying for their course or using their own special method. And remember that no independent training program you are asked to pay for, or academic degree, comes with a hundred per cent guarantee of employment or entry into a specific career. If someone wants to prepare you for a job and then pay you to do it, they will offer you an apprenticeship, internship, or other training that they provide.
The life of your dreams can be yours if you’ll just join my team.
Multilevel marketing schemes show up in every work scam article because they show up in every season, every year. And they are out there again, preying on those growing frustrated or disheartened with their job search.
It would be wonderful if their claims were true. Buy a kit, talk everyone you know into buying the products or services from you and/or signing up under you to sell the products or services, and make all the money you could ever want. And you’ll get to use these amazing products or services, experience all the miracles they bring, and make a new group of friends that will become a second family to you as a bonus.
Only they never are. At best, you might find a workout, or a vitamin supplement, or some clothes or makeup you like, and get a nice discount on them. You might even earn enough commission to make some or all of the services or products free to you, and a little extra cash initially. If that’s all you’re looking for, by all means, join the company.
Just remember that these benefits are typically short-term. Suppose I sign up for a makeup and skincare MLM. I might earn enough commission to make my makeup free to me, and some cash to go get my hair done this month, but in two more months I will have to purchase more products to stay active in the company, and if I don’t have any customers at the time, that purchase will come out of my own funds. If I earn $100 in free makeup, and an additional $100 to spend, but wind up ordering $250 worth of stuff I do not truly want and will not use eight weeks later in order to keep my representative status, I didn’t earn $200 in free merchandise and cash. I spent $250 to get $200 in merchandise and cash, putting me $50 behind.
No matter what type of job you’re looking for, it can be stressful. It can be tempting to take what looks like a more gentle, less stressful path to your goals. And the combination of stress and the high pressure tactics used by most scammers can make it easy to miss many of the red flags. Look out for yourselves…and your fellow Utica musicans and other artists looking for jobs this fall.