By ALLEN RAU
A common feeling for folks every year around April 15, Tax Day, is one of stress.
But along with the stress of filing taxes comes the relief or perhaps joy of receiving a nice refund.
While tax season is prime time for these types of technological criminal acts, the rise of social media has turned any time of the year into a potential windfall for the criminal.
Gail Stallard at the Packet-N-Post has seen her share of folks convinced of the legitimacy of these fake social media personalities and other similar types of scams. In the time the shipping store has been in business, over a year and a half, she said there had been at least 10 attempts to send funds to fraudulent online acquaintances.
One experience she shared recently demonstrated the potentially severe nature of such scams.
A local woman received a friend request through Facebook from a gentleman in Nigeria claiming to be a shipping executive for Exxon, Stallard said. Over time the overseas huckster, by utilizing his “mother” to also contact the resident on Facebook, was able to convince her that he was a legitimate suitor who needed money from her in order to travel to meet her.
When the victim decided to send money, Stallard said, she tried to talk her out of the situation.
“He had her convinced that he’s a big-timer at Exxon and all his money is tied up and he needs that money to get to her; she’s 85 years old!” Stallard said.
The Packet-N-Post employee was able to contact a family member who told Stallard that the relative had already sent a large sum of money to the gentleman.
Eventually the victim recognized her predicament and stopped payments, but Stallard added that she believes some folks caught in similar situations continue paying in order to avoid embarrassment.
While many have become aware of the “Nigerian Prince” type of scam, some folks not well versed in current technology can also fall victim to online criminals.
“Technology made scams easier to conduct,” Jonesborough Chief of Police Ron Street said recently, “because you’re not dealing face to face with people as much.”
As tax season approaches, the specter of refund checks filling pockets with cash is a tempting opportunity for criminals to scam the innocent.
“There’s all kinds of scams going on now. The big one in this area now is Internal Revenue Service (scams),” Street said. “And it’s usually someone with a Nigerian or Indian accent saying that you owe money and you have to send it, they want a certain type of credit card or they want you to get money cards and send it to them.
“The IRS doesn’t work that way. They’re going to communicate with you in writing and setup a meeting in person to deal with. But so many people are vulnerable and they fall for these things.”
Street added that anybody soliciting money in the name of the IRS or any other entity or corporation is most likely trying to pull a scam.
Those who are unfamiliar with technology tend to be easier targets as they may feel that their computer, laptop or network is secure or they may not be aware of the security settings that make that technology secure.
“One is that something is wrong with your computer and you’ve sent them notice that something is wrong and they will fix it if you give them access to the computer,” Street said.
Once the access to your computer has been established, all the personal information or contacts are wiped from the computer and potentially used to empty your bank accounts or perhaps create false identities, among the many possibilities.
Both Street and Stallard said that being extremely cautious of what you share online may be the best, or possibly the only, way to avoid such situations.
“It’s going on everywhere. I mean it’s huge. The scamming world is huge,” Stallard added, “But the main thing is to make people aware.”