John Grindrod: Navigating those scam-filled waters

When it comes to trusting your fellow humans, it’s a far different world than the one in which I grew up.

While watching TV, I’ll see commercials for a company called Life Lock, warning that there are many out there who’re working on ways to steal our identities, so we should be paying for their monthly monitoring service to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Every time I see the spots, I think of my neighbor and pal Brad Kelley, a recently retired barrister, who once told me he couldn’t understand anyone who’d want to steal his identity, since there were many days he didn’t even want to be himself!

Often those Life Lock commercials are followed within a few minutes by another that I think is even crazier. In this one for a company called Home Title Lock, a former fraudster tells home-owning viewers how easy it is to steal the titles to their properties. There’s talk of titles only being one-page documents which can be easily accessed, forged and signed over to the bad guys and filed at the Recorder’s Office. Not to worry, though, for this company will certainly keep a peeled eye for nefarious individuals to ensure homeowners are protected, for its monthly fee. When did the world ever get so crazy that you have to pay a company to keep people from stealing what you legally own?

Of course, with electronic devices that tech progress has brought us in the form of smartphones, iPads and computers, the number of times we can be assaulted by others who wish to disrupt our lives either for profit or just for kicks is overwhelming.

I’ve received messages supposedly from Kohl’s, from the USPS and from FedEx that there are undeliverable packages in warehouses for me because of incomplete address information; packages I never even ordered. The texts encourage me to click on links to provide a nice juicy helping of personal information so the parcels can make their way to my doorstep.

Calls come to my cell from all over the U.S. and sometimes even from foreign countries that go unanswered, then are blocked and deleted, yet the crooks access new numbers and their crooked games continue. The other day I blocked and deleted calls from Fife, Washington; Hamilton, Alabama; and Deerfield Beach, Florida, while in the past I’ve gotten calls from cities in Mexico, Romania and other parts very much unknown.

Lately, it seems my home computer has been targeted with many unsolicited emails, one of the old-school type and several of a newer type, but all with the common denominator of appealing to our universally held belief that it’s a damn fine day when we can get something for nothing.

As for the old-school attempt, just a few weeks ago I got a scam email of the type I know many of you will recall as being quite prevalent a few years ago. The mailer said she was a director of affairs at a bank, one called the United States Community Bank.

Someone, she said, has died and no one in the family has come forward to claim the money in the account, five hundred thousand dollars (in parentheses incorrectly identified numerically as $500,00,000). In order to close out the account and clear up such a “problem,” she wanted to know if she could transfer the amount to my bank account just to get it off the books, so to speak. The last part of the email made me laugh out loud. The mailer said all documents of the transfer would be destroyed so that no criminals could access my savings account, which I thought to be a very nice touch.

As for the many current attempts to entice me to take the hook on the end of their poles, all have to do with my winning prizes, some from no known entity such as the one that merely said in the subject line, “Pharmacy Confirmation, you’ve won a Sonic Fusion Flossing Electric Toothbrush.”

Others coming into my in-box have store names attached. How about, from Ace Hardware, that DeWalt LED Work Light I somehow won, or other drawings I’ve won from some stores like Costco that I’ve never even patronized? One item I supposedly won had me Googling an English translation for the prize, a Le Creuset. Turns out Le Creuset (English translation, “a crucible”) is a French cookware outlet.

While I’m still sharp enough to stay several steps ahead of the scammers, I can’t help but shake my head how, in one lifetime, I’ve gone from a time in the 1960s when many never even locked the doors of their homes or their autos to a time when there are so many out there trying to steal my identity, my home and my money!

Since language is ever expanding, it’s impossible to provide an accurate number as to how many words there are in the English language, but of the 300,000 entries in a typical unabridged dictionary, perhaps the most important one these days should be, “Beware.”

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected].