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TMCNet:  Online scammers busy during holiday season

[December 03, 2012]

Online scammers busy during holiday season

Dec 03, 2012 (The Post and Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Robbie Schulz of Mount Pleasant appreciates your concern, but he was not mugged in the Philippines, as his email said.

And Elsie and Eugene Baty of Goose Creek did not win millions, despite a caller's claim.

But like many folks, they were the targets of scams last week.

This time of year, many people receive emails about unbelievably good sales, easy ways to make a quick buck or heart-wrenching tales of people who need a helping hand.

"The good news is that we are actually getting fewer complaints because people are getting smarter," said Chris Hadley, director of operations at Better Business Bureau serving Central South Carolina and Charleston. "It's easy to Google something and find reports online." So far, that hasn't stopped the bad guys from trying.

Scammers often don't have to look too hard for personal information like email addresses or phone numbers. Pretending to be trustworthy, they then contact their marks in search of additional information. It's called "phishing." "Sometimes people are lulled into a false sense of security and wind up falling for it," said Juliana Harris, communications coordinator for the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

Earlier this week, Schulz, owner of South Carolina Lightning Protection, clicked on what he thought was an email from AT&T warning that he had a virus on his email account.

It was a fake email that sent a notice to 1,000 of Schulz's contacts claiming that, while vacationing in Manila, he and his family were robbed and needed $2,050 to get home.

At the time, the real Schulz was working in North Carolina where he often didn't have Internet access.

"We wouldn't have even found out about it if people hadn't called us," he said.

Most suspected a scam, but were nonetheless supportive.

"We heard from a lot of people ready to come down and get us or send help if needed," he said. "We really appreciated the response." Although the scam was geared more toward his contacts, it's still been a headache for him. He lost work time responding to friends, changing his passwords and checking his personal accounts.

Hadley said the Better Business Bureau is focusing on cybersafety because of the growing popularity of the Internet for shopping or donating to charity.

Consumer Affairs receives more reports of scam phone calls, Harris said. Many phone rip-offs are directed toward seniors or retirees.

"That's the audience that tends to be home during the day," she said. "They are more apt to talk to someone and less apt to hang up on them." The Batys fall into that category, but they did hang up on their callers, who knew their name, address and phone number, which has been unlisted since 1956, Elsie Baty said. She said one caller told her she'd won $1.5 million and a second said her husband would receive $2.5 million. All they had to do was purchase a $150 Walmart gift card.

The woman called several times, finally telling Baty that if she would cooperate, her windfall could be in her bank account by the end of the day.

"It had me so nervous and upset, but I knew it was a scam," she said. "When they called my husband, he said, 'Don't you dare call this number again.'" Swindlers typically give up fairly easily because they know there's someone else right around the corner, Harris said.

"Tell them you know it's a scam and you're going to report them and they'll move on to someone else," she said.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.

___ (c)2012 The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) Visit The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) at www.postandcourier.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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