New Castle News

April 7, 2014

Mitchel Olszak: There’s no reason to be surprised by modern scams

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — P.T. Barnum once observed that there is a sucker born every minute.

Judging from the people who complain about being caught up in computer scams, I think he was too conservative in his count.

Here at the New Castle News, barely a day goes by that we don’t hear about a scam of some sort. Sometimes a law enforcement or government agency issues a warning. But often, we receive calls from average individuals who have been victimized.

These calls have a general tone. The people — who often describe themselves as senior citizens — are shocked to discover such activities are taking place. And they want us to alert the public to the problem.

Meanwhile, I am left to wonder: Where have these people been?

How can you function in this day and age and be ignorant of the rampant scamming that’s taking place? It’s not just the Nigerian princes looking to give away cash that we have to be aware of. The scammers are limitless in their imagination and ingenuity.

For example, one recent caller was upset when a message appeared on her computer accusing her of viewing child pornography. A virus had locked up her computer and the perpetrators were demanding money to return control and refrain from alerting authorities.

How did this person’s computer become infected? There are lots of possibilities. Perhaps her firewall was inadequate. Perhaps her antivirus software was outdated or nonexistent. Perhaps that cute kitty video someone sent to her had a virus embedded in it.

A newspaper can’t tell people all of the scams out there and the ways to avoid them because they are countless. You need to know the capacity of your firewall and your antivirus software. And if you don’t know what those are, maybe you shouldn’t be on the Internet.

When it comes to Internet communications, the best advice I can offer is to be suspicious. I have written on this subject before, and I have stressed the need to assume everything is a scam unless assured otherwise.

And perhaps just as important, I won’t allow a scammer to scare me into doing something idiotic. Often, that’s the whole goal of a scam: Frightening you into giving up money or personal information.

Scammers know the same thing the folks who produce the nation’s political ads do: Fear is the most powerful of human motivators.

In this day and age, we need to be very dubious of any effort to scare us. Instead of being frightened, we should be asking who’s behind this nonsense and what they hope to gain from it.

Take away mindless fear, and you take away much of the power possessed by scammers of all sorts. If you want to protect yourself, be skeptical and be brave.