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.
by Jess Szabo originally published on Artist Cafe Utica www.artistcafeutica.com