Scam I amBy Wade Kwon
Every once in a great while, Iâ€™ll do something completely stupid.
Not like â€œlock-the-keys-in-the-car stupid,â€ but more like â€œgive-the-keys-to-random-stranger-for-safekeeping stupid.â€
Or in this case, â€œgive-my-Social-Security-number-to-fraudulent-Web-site stupid.â€
By nature, I am skeptical, private, semi-paranoid and untrusting. Those qualities failed me.
In my defense, I fall for a phisher, scammer or e-mail hoax only about once a decade.
(The last time, I was still on dial-up, with a Telnet connection to check e-mail in some form of Unix. I responded to a â€œbilling departmentâ€ request and handed over my bank card number. I lucked out: No damage done, other than a bruised ego, a new ATM card and a vow to never be suckered again.)
This time, it was a fake e-mail invitation to fill out an online customer survey for my financial invitation. It didnâ€™t occur to me until three days later that perhaps my Social Security number wasnâ€™t needed as part of a questionnaire about a recent site makeover.
Yeah, I feel pretty stupid. And in time, Iâ€™ll forgive myself. (Less so if someone out there manages to take a trip to Tahiti or open a platinum card on my dime.)
For a college internship, I worked as a researcher at the consumer unit of a Washington TV station. This was a major market, with hours upon hours of local coverage daily, a step above the typical â€œIs your air freshener effective?â€ or â€œMy tailor ripped me offâ€ segments.
One thing I quickly discovered was the sheer number of scams out there, ready to bilk people out of hard-earned money. Quite a few preyed on the elderly. One of my roommates said hell has a special place reserved for con artists who scam money from grannies living on fixed incomes.
Iâ€™d see the same games played over and over: investment schemes, contractors who go door to door, telemarketing for vacation packages, sweepstakes that required deposits â€¦ It was excellent training: I became better at spotting ripoffs from a safe distance.
Over the years, the scams have changed little â€” they just added the Internet as another weapon. A recent radio report by â€œOn the Mediaâ€ discussed the Nigerian 419 scam (â€œDear Sir: I have been requested by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter â€¦â€).
I thought, why are they doing a segment on this? Isnâ€™t this old hat?
But because the corrupt Nigerian government wonâ€™t crack down on scammers, itâ€™s nearly impossible to choke off. And the real surprise: The scam continues to grow, meaning more people are sending their money to get rich quick.
You may not feel sorry for people who are duped. You may even believe that only stupid people fall for such transparent ploys. You or I would never be that gullible.
We all get ripped off. Maybe some of us are smart enough (or embarrassed enough) to keep it quiet. But it happens, over and over again.
Maybe your cell phone company overcharges you by a couple of dollars on your bill. Maybe the bread you bought yesterday was stale out of the bag. Maybe your mechanic fixed the problem â€” then caused another one.
Or maybe you fell for an investment too good to be true, a mail-order gadget that never arrived or a lover who never called back.
Sound a little familiar?
Iâ€™ve told people to fight back, get satisfaction, donâ€™t let crooks and liars get away with it.
Otherwise, theyâ€™ll just keep doing it.
I called the financial institution â€” and was bounced to four different reps. I called the Social Security Administration fraud hot line â€” open 9 to 3 weekdays, because stamping out identify theft is a part-time concern. I went online to the credit report bureaus â€” a tangle of different instructions on how to safeguard your rating.
They donâ€™t make it easy to head off the thieves.
Let my stupidity be a lesson for all. If you get taken, fight back. At least I wonâ€™t laugh at you. Much.
I promise I wonâ€™t fall for these scams ever again, or my motherâ€™s maiden name ainâ€™t Pak.