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Scam alert

How to stay safe as scams get smarter

8 May 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Posted by Tom Hartmann , 0 Comments

Person is holding up their mobile phone looking at it and pointing at the screen

Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say, and we humans certainly get into some tricky situations. Particularly when the economy starts to go pear shaped – which is what we’re seeing with the rising cost of living and spiking interest rates – desperation can push people into scamming each other that much more.

The added money stress can also mean we take our eye off the ball for a moment and fall for things we typically wouldn’t. Remember, scam victims are not careless – they’re just distracted. And distractions can happen to anyone, depending on what’s going on around us.

Here’s what not to do

As always, the antidote is to look out for each other and stay safe. As well as not:

You’d be surprised how much we lose! CERT’s latest figure is close to $17.1 million last year, but we know that’s a fraction of losses because many don’t report.

People’s voices get ripped off too

Speaking of not taking calls from people you don’t know… that’s unfortunately going to become more difficult. Experts tell me it’s only a matter of time before con artists here are able to rip off the very voices of those we’re close to and use them to trick us. I bet it’s here already.

By just taking a voice recording, fraudsters can use new technology to create entirely new conversations that mimic someone’s voice.

So if you remember the classic grandparents’ scam, where you receive a call from a family member supposedly in trouble and needing cash, it won’t be long before the voice on the line will sound exactly like that grandchild.

How would they tape your voice in the first place? Over the phone. Which is why it’s okay not to answer calls from folks you don’t know.

Fraudsters using AI and ChatGPT

So you’ll probably be aware that there are romance scams out there – fall for someone online, then they end up asking you to invest in crypto with them or an investment that turns out to be entirely fake. Sometimes this is called ‘pig butchering’, or fattening up the victim before the slaughter. Brutal.

Now with the rise of ChatGPT, or other artificial intelligence that has found the gift of the gab, that online love interest can easily end up being a chatbot designed to build your trust and steal your funds. It could be a real-life person, but possibly not – it’s increasingly hard to tell.

This unfortunately is allowing scammers to scale up their romance scams to millions of potential victims at a time. And even if only a tiny percentage bite, it’s costing con artists little in the way of money or effort.

The key here, if you meet someone online, is to look closely at their profile. Was it created yesterday? Are they on other social platforms? Do their pictures look generic?

These days, with image-generating AI creating virtually any image someone can dream up, the pics can be pretty convincing, to the point that you believe you’re connecting with a real person. No matter how high the quality, it may be just a bot.

Scams when you’re buying and selling online

Why is it that the most popular products are scam magnets? Fraudsters know where their victims are headed online. So they pick the latest fad to fake.

Case in point: kids’ crocs. High demand for these means they’ve been increasingly hard to find, pushing people to look further into the shadier places of the internet. This unfortunately smells like opportunity to a fraudster.

We used to think it impossibly hard for someone to set up an entire website just to scam someone, but it’s gotten way too easy. And with links intercepting us before we make it to the legit sites, we get drawn in to giving them a go.

Even legit sites like Facebook Marketplace end up with fraudulent listings for fads.

We’re better off supporting local stores wherever we can. Unfortunately the most popular stuff can end up being the bait on an online hook.

Finally, scammers can be victims too

So it would be easy, being that we’re basically under attack, for us to demonise all the nasties out there who are setting out to scam. But as usual with our human condition, it helps to look again.

There are more and more reports of people applying for what they think are legit roles, only to find themselves literally held hostage and forced by gangs to work in scam sweatshops.

That person setting out to scam you may be a victim themselves. These are even more desperate times for some!

Stay safe out there.

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