5 Vile Everyday Scams (And How To Avoid Them)
You're a savvy Cracked reader. You don't fall for silly internet scams. You don't respond to emails from deposed foreign royalty. You never get excited about winning lotteries you didn't enter. And you are just ... wow, dead sexy. That's unrelated, but it had to be said. Anyway, everybody knows about those old scams. But there's a whole new generation of them, carefully designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash. Here's how to avoid them.
Your Social Security Number Isn't About To Be Suspended
The importance of Social Security Numbers makes them white-hot targets for criminals and fraudsters. In recent years, a scam used to steal them has gone from an occasional nuisance to a full-blown epidemic. Here's how it goes: A scammer will call someone and inform them that due to "suspicious activity," their SSN has been "suspended," and in order to reactivate it, they need to either pay a small fee or "confirm" their SSN by reading it over the phone. The former is a straight-up lie to get your money, while the latter is a straight-up lie to get your SSN so that they can steal your identity/benefits.
In 2017, the Social Security Administration reported that 3,200 people had fallen victim to this scam, for a total cost of $210,000. In 2018, that figure rocketed to 35,000 victims and a total cost of $10 million. And in 2019? Between February and March alone, over 36,000 people were successfully scammed out of $6.7 million. This is big business, which means that it's possible that you or your loved ones might be targeted. If that happens, here's what you need to remember:
- Your SSN isn't a credit card or a library card or a gift card for Chili's. It can't be "suspended."
- Do not give your SSN to any random stranger who asks for it. This is a pretty good rule to follow all the time, if we're honest.
- Ignore any demands for payment. Even if your caller ID is showing the official number for the SSA, ignore it and politely (or impolitely) put the phone down. Scammers can manipulate the phone system to show that they're calling from the SSA.
- If you want to be sure that nothing is awry with your SSN, call the SSA yourself using only the number posted on their official website. They won't mind; in fact, they'll think you're super cool for being so vigilant. Probably.
You Don't Have To Pay Your Energy Company Any Money RIGHT NOW
In the last few years, energy companies have started installing smart meters in homes across the country for the express purpose of allowing consumers to monitor their own energy consumption. It's a fine idea, but this has given rise to a new scam wherein crooks contact consumers under the guise of working for the local energy company and ask them to pay a "deposit" on their smart meter. And if they don't? Well, they can kiss their power goodbye.
This scam is usually carried out via phone, but in some instances, fake utility reps have visited people's homes and demanded money in person. In some cases, fraudsters have even used this access to case the joint for a robbery -- like Joe Pesci in Home Alone, but with your elderly relatives instead of Kevin McAllister. According to a security manager at Con Edison, this scam nets "tens of thousands of dollars a year." If someone tries this on you, here's what you need to do:
- Utility companies do not require consumers to pay deposits on smart meters. If you receive a call like this, hang up. If the number looks like it's coming from your utility, ignore it. Again, these days, it's super easy to fake where a telephone call is coming from.
- Ignore any and all demands for payment. Your energy company will not kill your power over something as minor as a "deposit." The scammers are trying to scare you, so take a chill pill and hang up.
As a helpful bonus tip, you can go ahead and extend that "Just hang up" rule to any caller that wants to be paid in Bitcoin.
- Stop us if this sounds familiar, but If you've hung up and still need reassurance that everything is fine, call your supplier using the number posted on their official website. If there are any problems with your account, they'll tell you.
- If someone turns up at your property saying that they're with your energy company, ask to see some identification. If you're unsure about whether it's legit, call the company. If they don't have any identification, slam the door in their face and call the police.
- Oh, and while we're on the subject, ignore any calls from "energy companies" that threaten to cut you off right now if you don't pay your bills. That's not a thing legit companies will do without trying to contact you several times (via both phone and the mail), even if you're behind on your payments.
Don't Give Your DNA To A "Scientist" Who Approaches You On The Street
According to Bloomberg, low-income communities in Kentucky are being approached by people purporting to be scientists or medical professionals -- working out of vans, naturally -- who offer them $20 in exchange for a DNA sample (for "research"), as well as a few medical details.
The objective of this exercise isn't the DNA, though. It's the medical and personal information the residents are handing over alongside their samples, which fraudsters can use for anything from stealing people's identities to filing bogus insurance claims. The victims might make an easy $20 out of the deal, but they wind up getting saddled with massive amounts of debt later.
So what should you do if someone tries this on you?
- You do what you'd normally do if some shady dudes in a van asked for your DNA. You ignore them and do whatever it takes to get away, whether it's running, walking, or hopping. If they continue asking for a sample and some insight into your health situation, try urinating freely with both fury and vigor. That's DNA, right?
Don't Return That Call Which Only Rang Once
You know what the most annoying feeling in the world is? When you hear your phone ring and drop everything to answer, only for the caller to hang up a split second later. If you're one of those people who instinctively returns calls like this, be sure to take a look at the number you're about to call back. It's called the "one-ring scam," and while it sounds like something involving counterfeit LOTR merchandise, it's one of the craftiest telephone scams out there right now.
First a scammer will call your phone, being sure to only ring once, and then hang up. They do this again and again and again, in the hope that you're so flustered by the volume of missed calls that you don't notice you're about to call a premium-rate toll number based in some far-off country. You then get hit with a variety of charges, none of which you'll find out about until your next phone bill drops, while the scammers walk away with a cut of the proceeds.
Here's what to do if this happens to you:
If you wake up to find that your phone has been inundated with calls hailing from Africa -- more specifically, from Sierra Leone or Mauritania -- and you don't have any family living there or dumbass cousins backpacking there, you're probably fine.
No One Has Hacked Your Porn Habits
Scammers have realized there's serious money to be made exploiting the inherent weaknesses in our browsing habits. Hence the rise of "sexploitation" scams. Targets will receive an email purporting to be from a group of "international" hackers. The message warns that unless they pay up within two days, evidence of their dirtiest habits will be forwarded to their friends and family. As proof that they aren't bluffing, the email will also claim that the target has "weird" tastes -- which just winds up confusing prudes like us, whose strangest kink is "kind people pretending to talk to you, because a real connection is the hardest thing to find." Also, vore stuff. Gotta love vore.
It's hard to know the precise scale of this scam, but a recent analysis by an online security company suggests that 1 in 10 phishing scams involved some kind of sextortion like this. But seeing as how most people are unwilling to discuss their porn habits, most wouldn't cop to falling for this, either. So what should you do if you get one of these emails?
You delete it.
The email might look scary, but that's the point. It's meant to freak you out so that you pay up on the mere off chance that it's a real threat. It isn't. Ignore it. Besides, what's the worst that could happen? You walk into your next family reunion with your head held high and own your tastes like royalty. "Yes, I do like to rub one out to big titties, Grandmama. Pass the mashed potatoes."
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