Internet scams

How Do I Lie To Americans? Let Me Count the Ways

Speaking of the re-distribution of wealth, cybercrimes are expected to globally skyrocket to an economy, including damage costs, larger than the size of Japan – a whopping $6 Trillion annually by 2021.  This is money out of our pockets.  Yours, mine, businesses, governments.  That’s according to Cybercrime Magazine, a publication of Cybersecurity Ventures.  Steve Morgan, Editor-in-Chief reports, “This represents the greatest transfer of economic wealth in history…and will be more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.” 

Indeed, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lovely 19th-century sonnet bared one’s affection and sentiment toward another by asking, “How Do I Love Thee?  Let Me Count the Ways.”  Yet, with all its human fervor to be faithful and true, equally devoted are scam artists who are robbing the world for trillions every year, right from our living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and boardrooms.  And there’s that thief – even in your car – besides Google or Facebook snooping or listening in. 

Seriously now.  Sharing employment and credit card information online is essentially dipping your hand in a snake bed every time you shop or job hunt on the internet.  Could this be the day – or maybe the next – that you hear the rattle and feel the bite.  The bite still seems small, but the venom is worse.  Scams used to be simple and singular in nature.  But not now.  They are convoluted, multi-tiered acts of theft against a single individual.  Some months ago, while conducting a search, I read a remark from one of the architects of the internet, saying it was created with great optimism, but without an actor to play devil’s advocate.  “We just thought of all the benefits,” he said.    

Arthur Forster, Director of Investigations for the Better Business Bureau Southeast Florida, had more to say about this case.  “These predators are located in Fort Lauderdale.  This is an ID

For that, we have fake missionaries renting out homes while they serve “abroad,” and can’t show up at a house or apartment they’re renting to meet the tenant.  Or so the story goes.  But!  You can see the pictures or drive by the empty house.  All the missionary requires is your deposit and advanced rental payments over the phone if you like the place.  After all, you must prove you are a responsible and mature tenant, right?

In May of 2020, a human resource assistant living in Tampa, Florida, reported she was jilted for $2,180.00 of monthly pay after accepting a work-at-home job on Indeed.com.  Her original pay date was changed three times.  When she realized she would not be paid amidst excuses of “company policy changes” and “COVID-19” interference, she reported the incident to the labor board.  That didn’t make her whole, so she reported the incident to the Better Business Bureau of West Florida.  Now, the potential damage to her or any employment fraud victim is remarkable:  Job hunting all over again, which takes serious time and devotion.  The necessity to explain to other employers why they are job-hopping (some employers will believe the victim; some will fear the victim is trouble).  They could be facing 30-day-late credit damage, not to mention stress, deep disappointment, and humiliation – the feeling of being disregarded and disrespected.  And finally, the victim suffers damage to their hope in life, with fundamental trust in society lost.

Arthur Forster, Director of Investigations for the Better Business Bureau Southeast Florida, had more to say about this case.  “These predators are located in Fort Lauderdale.  This is an ID theft, where the con artists are posing as employers.  These people incorporated their business and started advertising work-from-home opportunities on places like Indeed.com and CareerBuilder.com, which allows them to electronically receive a passport, social security, and address information from applicants.  Online employment sites typically offer free services to employers, such as allowing them to capture their first 50 applicants free of charge. This company took advantage of that.  The predator (in this case) then began opening “white plastic” credit cards – store-brand cards, from personal information obtained.  All of this, while the ‘employee’ is working hard at home.  The predators typically claim a change of address when applying for a credit line to avoid the scammed victim from receiving mail.”  Forster also said they apply for unemployment benefits to draw in more cash and register the “employee’s” name on the dark web.  The ripped-off victims are called “the mules,” and they are commonly terminated a few days prior to a 30-day fake probationary period.

After my conversation with Forster, I spoke to the victim.  She has since found another job – a government job – online, and said she believes this is legitimate.  But as with most applicants, the victim said there wasn’t a red flag to notice with CSB Enterprises, incorporated in Fort Lauderdale.  She described her experience with the predator:

“I was hired as an assistant human resource manager and worked directly for Casey Bell from home.  I hired approximately fifty applicants and chose to keep a spreadsheet that contained the phone numbers and emails of everyone I hired, to provide proof of doing work. I sent emails out to everyone when I realized this wasn’t legitimate.

As far as CSB Enterprises, they advertised all over online, and their ads left the impression they were a big company.  Casey Bell, my boss, eventually went to Arise.com, set up a portal, and charged fees up to $500 for applicants to have access to ‘special software.’  Arise had its own portal and background check fees.”  When asked if she trusted Arise.com, she replied she did but asked me why web-based employment sites don’t verify the legitimacy of companies before they allow them to run employment ads.  I explained to her, as a former U.S. national employment expert, that the revenues generated from advertisers are the support of publications and websites, and they aren’t required to confirm legitimacy.    

What does this tell us?  It tells us that in less than twenty years, a single-stage scam has become a convoluted, multi-tiered scam that can penetrate your entire life, beginning with what we all need the most: a job or business that enables us to survive and thrive. They rob you of your pay, they rob you of your revenues, your credit and credit score, your identity, your healthcare opportunities, and your relationships with government.  In other words, all of the functioning parts of your fundamental existence. 

Forster explained that most financial predators of these multi-tiered schemes are hatched in a variety of countries in and around the old Iron Curtain, from Germany to Russia.  “They are a criminal organization, complete with their own best practices for doing business,” he said. 

A COVID-19 Tampa business victim filed a report with the BBB of West Florida disclosing a loss of over $130,000.00 from buying N-95 masks online from a CDC-approved vendor.  The product shipping scam involved the demand for “unexpected yet necessary, refundable insurance payments” citing “customs” as the problem.  The company accused of the fiasco, allegedly vetted by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), was traced back to Pakistan.

The FBI’s 2019 Internet Crime Report indicates there were 33 categories of scams investigated throughout last year, with a total of 467,361 complaints received.  The report indicates that “smishing” is growing – which is texting fraud – as is “pharming,” which is the construction of fake websites.  Social media was the tool used to commit internet fraud in 29,093 cases, and virtual currency was a tool used in 29,313 cases. 

“Criminals are getting so sophisticated.  It’s getting harder and harder for victims to spot the red flags and tell the real from the fake,” said Donna Gregory.  She is Chief of IC3, the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center.

The total estimated losses out of the pockets of American individuals, families, and companies was a staggering $3.5 Billion, just in 2019. That is according to the FBI.  But there’s another factor to consider:  this loss is based on reported financial losses from reported complaints.  The traditional thinking of law enforcement and consumer agencies has always been to multiply the number of complaints received, by three and as much as five, since most victims don’t cry out for justice.  This victim-count method churns out a revised 2019 estimated internet fraud victim list of 1,402,083 to 2,336,805 people and businesses.  And more money. 

Forster said the State of Florida is the world’s #1 location for financial fraud operations.  Itself, Florida was devastated with top losses from internet fraud in 2019, compared to the rest of the nation, with the exception of California:  The Sunshine State victim count was between 20,000 and 29,999, struggling alongside Texas and New York; and the Florida victims’ gross dollar losses ranged between $200 million and $500 million, which means they really don’t have a clue. 

For a moment, let us shift to the nation’s business world, where 73% of U.S. companies surveyed by Kroll, a division of Duff and Phelps, said in 2019 their number one concern is data theft.  This internet crime commonly swipes confidential customer information, culminating in personal identity theft, and robbed bank accounts – en masse.  Then consider IP theft, which is theft of intellectual property – those trademarks, logos, slogans, color schemes, and other unique features that help us identify with whom we are shopping and paying online.  How do you know you are not giving your credit card and personal information to a fake store?  In fact, these days, how do you know you’re not walking into a fake store?  I don’t think it can’t happen.  I recently wrote an article about a lawsuit against an alleged fake store in Tampa that copy-catted a successful wig and beauty store in St. Petersburg, complete with the same product lines (but of cheaper quality), the almost-same little red shopping bags, and – brazenly enough – photos of the original store in St. Petersburg – right on their website, to suggest an affiliation that doesn’t exist.

The most important question, however, is this:  Are you prepared to operate your daily consumer affairs on the internet – to shop or get a job through it, with confidence? 

The number one online scam category in the U.S. is lotteries, gifts, and sweepstakes – are you aware of that?  Are your elderly family members – the over-60 crowd that loves sweepstakes – playing Russian Roulette with their finances by using a global system they really don’t understand?  Have you sat and talked to them about the internet?  Do your children receive regular warnings from you that nothing should be purchased online without parental guidance?  Does your family have its own risk mitigation strategy, just like companies do, to assess where you are vulnerable and what you can do to perform due diligence before making a purchase or job hunting online?  Teenagers are struck hard by online purchases, so before they buy what’s in the shopping cart, check out unfamiliar companies through the Better Business Bureau, the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services (which also fields consumer complaints), and FBI information and make a phone call to the company first.  Better yet, can you just go to a store and make a purchase?  Is it close enough to take a reasonable drive and perhaps pay a little more to be safe? 

Yes, we’ve been duped into believing we can’t live without our phones or computers.  Ignore the fact that we’re being socially engineered to relinquish our privacy and freedoms.  We gotta have our electronics!

So, it’s “til death do we part.”

And eventually – when we’re born – they’ll perform brain surgery and wire us all up before we can even say “GaGa.”  Before you know it, we won’t be mostly human anymore.

Of course, some of us aren’t human now.

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