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Everything Is Always a Scam

Wed, 02/28/2024 - 17:23


When a hacker took over this newspaper’s Facebook page earlier this month, it drove home a point that everyone in this digital age should pay attention to: Everything is always a scam. Until proven otherwise, any kind of out-of-the-blue request to change a password or divulge personal details or solicitation of any sort has to be viewed very, very suspiciously.

Con artists have been around for as long as there has been anything worth stealing. With the shift to a nearly seamless digitally connected world, the job of a scammer has become, if anything, easier. Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is increasing the slickness of the phisher’s art. Microsoft announced recently that hacking groups with ties to China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran used its OpenAI system to find vulnerabilities in potential targets. In January, Microsoft disclosed that Russia-backed hackers had rummaged through the email of some of the company’s top executives.

If you are wondering, phishing is a broad attempt to gain passwords; whaling is when hackers go after the people at the top. They try blasting email addresses with common passwords to find a way in, then, once inside, impersonate others to move into more sensitive systems.

“Think before you click,” says one major business systems supplier, Cisco, which itself had been breached as recently as October.

Tip-offs to watch for are many and include seemingly alarming financial or personal news. Other common tricks involve people claiming to be stranded, direct messages from strangers or dead people, and prizes and giveaways. There are quizzes that want to know your mom’s maiden name. “Cloned” accounts contain forwarding gimmicks to spread malware. If you did not initiate contact with someone who is messaging you, don’t respond. “Did you see who died?” “Is this video of you?” Romantic overtures, job offers, etc. All fake.

So far, the hacker who got into The Star’s Facebook settings has not posted much, but may be systematically going after our thousands of “followers.” We deeply regret it if this is the case. Facebook itself is no help. In fact, there is no way to report a stolen page, that we can see.

According to something we read recently, more than $8 billion was taken by scammers in the United States in 2022. Locally, a 20-year-old man sent gift cards totaling $2,400 to a con artist after receiving a call from what appeared to be a local police phone line, telling him he’d be arrested otherwise. In another incident, a 66-year-old Wainscott resident was locked out of his computer and paid $1,000 to a fake security firm to release it.

Summer rentals are also a danger zone, with scammers posting fake listings, pocketing deposit payments, and then disappearing. One, in Montauk, involved a $2,500-a-night house on Airbnb whose description had been lifted from a legitimate real estate firm’s website, albeit at four times the price. Then there are too-good-to-be-true puppies for sale or oddly priced cameras listed online by sellers on another continent. With the stakes this high and victims so many, we have to assume that everything is always a scam.

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