Scammers are like viruses: They adapt and evolve

“A scam is an attempt to defraud a person after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using a combination of the victim’s fear, naivete, compassion, vanity, or greed.”

By now, most of us have been a potential victim of one scam or another. Has your computer screen ever been covered by a message warning you of disaster if you ignore it? Have you received an e-mail or text reporting a credit card transaction you never made, or one that tells you your bank account has been compromised? A common scam is a phone call, sometimes from a supposed relative, alerting you of an immediate need to send money to save them from some drastic fate.

I once received a call from my “grandson.” I was immediately suspicious when he called me grandpop; that’s not what they call me. I asked the caller for his name. Trying to keep the conversation going, he replied, “You forgot my name already?” I asked again; he hung up.

In the last few weeks, I received a letter from one firm and phone calls from another to inform me that they have identified, in separate cases, distant relatives who died years ago and left a million dollars or more and only my extended family and I are eligible to inherit it. No money up front; all I had to do was give them financial power of attorney to collect the money –– for a fee of just 25 percent. (I must hand it to them; they did a lot of research on members of the family.)

According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losing more than $10 billion to fraud in 2023, a 14 percent increase over reported losses in 2022. The rising cost of these crimes is astonishing, considering that in 2020 Americans lost only $3.5 billion to fraud, including identity theft. The most reported scam category was imposter scams, which saw significant increases in reports of both business and government impersonators. Another first is the method scammers reportedly used to reach consumers most commonly in 2023: e-mail. E-mail displaced text messages, which held the top spot in 2022 after decades of phone calls being the most common. Phone calls are the second most reported contact method for fraud in 2023, followed by text messages.

A recent article in The Washington Post offered these suggestions to ensure you don’t become a victim. Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers have technology that lets them “spoof” any number to fake where a call is coming from. They can pretend to be a family member, a government agency, or a well-known company such as Amazon. They can even spoof a location, convincing you it’s a local call from an unknown number.

Scammers have all your private information. They have databases of detailed personal and financial information about you and your family and use it to make themselves seem official. For example, a scammer can have your address, the names of family members, your Social Security number, even past debt amounts. Much of this information comes from data breaches and hacks over the years. If you have a call from a company, bank, collection agency, or government organization that rattles off your personal information, that’s a red flag. 

Fear is an indication you’re being scammed. Panic and fear are tools that scammers use regularly. If they can trigger your fight-or-flight response, they can prevent you from thinking critically in the moment. If you’re afraid, that’s your sign to call someone else: a partner, child, friend, AARP scam line (877-908-3360), or law enforcement.

Unusual payment methods are scams. Never pay in a strange way. All companies and government agencies use reputable payment methods and will never ask for cash, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or payment over peer-to-peer payment apps such as PayPal or Venmo. Never pay over the phone or through a link someone texts you. If you have any concerns about your accounts, log in directly to your own bank or credit card web site.

Scammers use subtle tricks to build trust. There are small things scammers do to gain your trust that you may not notice. Perhaps the most effective trick is not asking for anything too soon. We expect scammers to immediately try to get information or money out of us in some clumsy, obvious way. Don’t underestimate the people on the other end of the phone line: They have resources, experience and know-how to manipulate people.

Shame only helps scammers. People who fall for scams often feel shame or embarrassment, preventing them from seeking help. Keeping quiet doesn’t benefit the person who fell for a scam, it only protects the scammers.

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Mark Berg is a community activist in Adams County and a proud Liberal. His email address is

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1 month ago

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