Stan's World - Always Beware
August 15, 2022
Our business relates to money, specifically your money, so our interest is always piqued when we hear about scams seeking to separate our clients from their hard-earned assets. And if you think we focus on this topic too much, you’re correct. In fact, we’d like to send out even more reminders.
As you already know, we periodically remind clients to make sure they have the latest updates from Apple, Microsoft, et al. In addition, we urge clients to utilize such services as McAfee to monitor and protect their computers from prying ‘eyes.’
When the phone rings, we’d prefer you not answer unknown phone numbers. The caller may be pretending they are from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, Amazon, or whoever else might cause you to react spontaneously when they introduce themselves. If you don’t answer, you can’t be scammed by a mere message. Plus, you’ll have time to think about the contents of the message, especially if it includes a request for money. (You’re always welcome to call us for our opinion, especially if money is involved.)
So it was with great dismay that we read about the case of Ms. Carole Robinson, as profiled in the Business section of The Star Ledger1. Frankly, the story of Ms. Robinson is a lesson to us all. It also demonstrates that we should all spend more time on personal security.
In brief, Ms. Robinson thought she received an email from McAfee, the virus protection software company. The email said her Wells Fargo account had been charged $499.99 for her annual subscription. This was not a subscription she wanted, so she called the number in the email to request a refund. While helping her process the refund, the phony representative convinced her to grant him access to her Wells Fargo account so he could process everything smoothly. And thus began a horrible scam.
Some lessons to take from Ms. Robinson’s experience:
- Lesson #1: Never assume emails are accurate or even sent by the company/person as alleged. In fact, if you float your cursor over the sender’s address, you’ll be able to determine the true source of the email. In this instance, I suspect the return address did not even include mcafee.com.
- Lesson #2: Never call any phone number included in an email without Googling the sender’s company contact information to make sure the phone number is legitimate.
- Lesson #3: Never allow a caller to access your computer. In Ms. Robinson’s case, computer access helped facilitate the Wells Fargo transfers.
- Lesson #4: Don’t go to the bank and initiate a cash withdrawal, regardless of who you think you speak with on the phone. As part of the scam, Ms. Robinson was even given specific directions as to what to say to the tellers should they question her very large cash withdrawals. (As an aside, the tellers at the bank did their job and did question the reason for the large withdrawals.)
The Robinson tragedy is one of 17,000 identity theft calls to the Federal Trade Commission from NJ alone, and that’s just year-to-date in 2022. (There were more than 31,000 in 2021.)
The heart-breaking result of this scam: Ms. Robinson lost a staggering $420,000 and is now fighting to stay in her home.
If you read this story and think it can’t happen to you, think again. Caught off-guard by a phone call, pop-up, or email, you may act in a way that is totally foreign to you. Should that occur, STOP, and pause whatever you’re being directed to do. Call a family member, or us, or a friend, and explain what’s being asked of you. Any bills or expenses that are legitimate can always be paid another day. It’s the scammer who requires immediate action, and you should be prepared to resist via the final and perhaps most important lesson, Lesson #5: Discontinue all communication.