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Why is phishing so successful for scammers?

by TERRI DICKERSON/ CDA Press Consumer Gal
| April 15, 2021 1:00 AM

I am constantly asked by readers that if we as computer users are getting smarter and anti-phishing tools are getting more accurate at protecting us, why does it seem that the scammers are still succeeding at these phishing text and emails?

Scammers have figured out that if they promise monetary gain or threaten financial or physical danger, people are more likely to comply with their demands. As a result, consumers are being scammed out of tens of millions of dollars every year.

These cons continue to work because they have evolved to stay one step ahead of their targets by taking advantage of current events like the coronavirus crisis. Here are a couple of examples of how these tactics work.

Deactivation scares: This tactic works because people react quickly to an email stating that their account will or has been deactivated. It is easy to spot the scam if you don’t hold an account at the company supposedly sending you the email but what if you get a fake notice from a company you actually do business with? Often the phishing email contains a convenient link and asks you to enter your login name and password. To convince you this is an authentic notice, often the notice includes real links to the company they claim to be representing. Also, they will warn you to “Beware of scammers.” Don’t get caught up in these scams, go directly to your account by typing in the URL into the search bar and then check for any unauthorized activity separate from any notice you might have received.

Threats of going to jail: Phishers prey upon people’s guilty conscience. Very few things motivate someone to respond as quickly as the threat of jail. A particularly successful scam involves a warning from the FBI that you have been caught illegally downloading music or watching pornography on your computer. Fake threats from the IRS regarding tax return issues are also successful ploys for crooks. Often times the preferred communication for these types of scams is by phone, to catch you off guard and to heighten the sense of urgency. One tell-tale sign that it’s a scam is the insistence that you pay money immediately or you will be hauled off to jail.

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Beware of door knockers

As the weather warms the frequency of doorknockers increases. A doorknocker is, as the name suggests, someone who knocks at your door trying to sell you a product or service. Often the solicitation is from someone with a background story like this: “Our company is working in the area so we can give you a good deal” or it might be “We have extra material from another job and can save you money on this project”.

While a doorknocker may offer what appears to be a good deal, approach them with extreme caution (if you are brave enough to open your door to a stranger). This is an individual who showed up at your door uninvited. This means you have not done any checking to verify their story or their business model. Don’t let them think you aren’t entitled to do your due diligence. The best approach is to let the doorknocker know you will keep his information and get back to him if you wish to proceed; then you have the time to verify the quality/reputation of the business and solicit other bids to compare prices. Doorknockers are likely passing through town and may not be reputable which means you might receive poor service and then have no one to seek remedy from. They may also pressure you to make a quick decision but you do not have to make a snap decision. The higher the pressure, the bigger the red flags.

The bottom line is that not all doorknockers are bad or deceptive, but stop and take your time to vet them and do not give in to pressure to book the deal now while they are in your area.

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Are you overwhelmed by robocalls?

I receive inquiries weekly from local readers about what is being done to combat all these pesky robocalls. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association’s (CTIA) website, which is a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the U.S., wireless providers conduct a series of sophisticated analyses to keep billions of illegal robocalls from reaching consumers.

But there are several things you can also do to combat robocalls. 1. Check out your wireless provider's tools and services. These solutions can help you block unwanted calls; 2. Download and activate robocall blocking apps; 3. Engage your device features. In other words, use the features built into your phone to block unwanted calls; 4. Don’t engage with robocallers. Don’t give out personally identifiable information or send money to a third party without verifying the authenticity of the caller; finally, 5. You can add your name to the Do-Not-Call registry list. You can do this by going to the www.donotcall.gov website.

If you aren’t sure if you have registered your number on the Do Not Call Registry, you can check at either the website listed above or call 888-382-1222. If you would like to check online you will need to input your phone number and your email address and in a few minutes you will see an email with the date you registered your number if it has been located. This will let telemarketers know not to call you. Unfortunately, scammers will still continue to contact you because they don’t abide by laws.

You should also continue to report any robocalls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) since the wireless companies work closely with these entities to gather information to block unwanted calls. In short, wireless companies are working hard to combat robocalls but since it is inexpensive for crooks to place these calls they will continue to come. Many readers still heed the advice that if you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer the call.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The Cd'A Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.