Elliott Greenblott | Fraud Watch: Words of wisdom about words used by scammers

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Congratulations! You have been selected for an exclusive reward!

Sounds great — "Selected!" "Exclusive!" (Wow!) Who can resist the opportunity?

You click on the email, revealing that "an exclusive reward of up to $100" awaits, and from the Amazon logo you make a logical assumption: "I can get a $100 reward from Amazon? What's the harm? All I need to do is click where it says 'Take the Survey.' "

A primal urge — greed — kicks in. You don't bother checking the sender's email address or the "reply to" address.

Not important— and besides, I'm getting $100. You don't even try to read the extremely small gray print at the bottom of the message, which says, "This rewards program is not sponsored by, endorsed, or affiliated with and does not claim to represent or own any of the trademarks that are the property of Amazon who does not own, endorse, or promote this website."

Instead, you click the link and a survey appears with seemingly innocent questions that often request basic demographics, such as age, race, gender, number and ages of family members, employment and income.

Next comes a series of odd questions that may ask for preferences about food, automobiles, electronics, vacations or pastimes.

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Finally, you get your reward. Wait — it's not $100. Instead, you are offered a series of items, including magazine subscriptions, that supposedly are worth "at least" the amount promised. By now, you've wasted more than a half-hour, so, you close the browser and walk away. At least you didn't lose anything — or did you?

At best, you gave a data broker a treasure-trove of information about you. At worst, you surrendered key personal information to be used by scammers.

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Data brokers are generally legitimate businesses that sell personal information to small businesses and large corporations. Your data is valuable and can be used to target marketing. Often, your responses result in the appearance of pop-up ads on computer search engines, web pages and emails.

As for the criminal who may steal your profile or even purchase it from a data broker, he or she now has the necessary background details to manipulate you or impersonate legitimate businesses or government officials in order to commit theft.

By the way, the surrender of some information happened even if you decided to pull out of the "survey" before entering any responses. As soon as you click on a link or open up a website, you give away data, including your town, web address, type of computer and operating system, internet browser and confirmation of your email address, all by clicking one link on an email. That also happens when you click "unsubscribe."

Protection from the criminals in this scenario is actually easy. Before opening an email, any email, check the subject line for words like "congratulations," "surprise," or "limited time only." Be wary of offers from companies you don't patronize.

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If it's an offer of a reward or gift card, be very suspicious. Companies don't randomly distribute $50 or $100 gifts. Any email addressed to "recipient" is likely a scam. Read the fine print. A nonaffiliation statement tells you that you are dealing with a data broker or a scammer.

Examine the sender's and reply-to addresses. These tell you who is sending the email. For example, if the offer states "Amazon" and the sender and reply-to say something other than "@amazon.com," you are not dealing with Amazon. Companies don't use Gmail, Yahoo Mail (ymail) or Hotmail.

Finally, beware of the biggest mistake: assuming that you are too smart to be scammed.

The reality is that there are two kinds of people: those who have been scammed, and those who will be. Educated people are scammed every day. Scams have no relationship to education or the lack thereof. Scams use emotional ploys to build anxiety, and remove the logic and reason developed through education. Be safe!

Is your group interested in a virtual presentation on fraud and scams? Free presentations and literature are available for any size group at no cost. Questions, concerns or comments? Contact me at egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, "Mr. Scammer," which is distributed by GNAT-TV (gnat-tv.org) in Sunderland, Vt..


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