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The Constant Evolution of Scams

Man at a computer with code on it
Man at a computer with code on it

Scams have always been around but people are being affected more than ever before. Many efforts are being taken to combat this but many say the resolution falls on public education

As time passes, more aspects of our lives become dependent on technology. With this increased dependence also comes more opportunities for online dangers such as cyber scams. Even though the public is more intelligent about online risks, people are being affected more than ever before.

Cyber Scams Fixed.mp4

According to the FBI’s most recent internet crime report, there were more than 800,000 complaints filed in 2022. This may be fewer than 2021, but the losses exceeded $10 billion, an increase of $3 billion from the prior year. Special Agent Thomas, an FBI agent working with the Springfield division on criminal matters who withheld his first name for security reasons, says scams have always been around but their constant evolution is their biggest asset.

“So these scams have kind of evolved over time and as long as there have been criminals there have been scams. But the way technology has developed now has basically the efficiency for scammers to dupe victims. A lot of it is done over various means of communication,” Thomas said.

These forms of communication could include call, text, or email but Randy Mathis, the assistant to the chief of community information at the Carbondale Police Department, says the most common scam they see in their area happens over the phone.

“For the most part nowadays, it’s usually by telephone. We still do hear of occasions where somebody is contacted through the internet. We do sometimes have text messages that people respond to. Sometimes when they are online their computer gets overtaken because they have clicked accidentally or saw something that was a good opportunity and it turned out to be a scammer, well they will actually hijack your computer and force you to pay them in order to do that. But a lot of times we see things done by phone,” Mathis said.

As the forms of communication have evolved, Agent Thomas says these scammers have become far more efficient and skilled at what they do.

“I feel like with the onset of you know the advancements in technology, the fraudsters can reach multiple victims with one click now and fraudsters have become increasingly skilled at convincing victims they are a legitimate person or organization through these various forms of communication,” Thomas said.

While the formats scammers use have evolved over time, their tactics remain very similar. Mathis says most scams try to pressure people into making fast, rash decisions.

“They want you quickly, now, let's go before you have a chance to fully think things through and then to fully realize that oh, I should have known better. A lot of times that is what you get is the feeling of, ‘I should have known better’ but that is where that emotion comes in. Emotion helps us not to stop and think about things because we were afraid or we were excited and we are not always thinking,” Mathis said.

Carbondale police have had recent run-ins with scams of this nature. In March, multiple businesses received calls from someone claiming to be law enforcement and demanding they pay money or risk facing legal action. Mathis says that the police will never ask for money over the phone.

“Legitimate law enforcement agencies or government agencies from the IRS down to your local law enforcement will never ever ask you for money over the phone. The only difference with that would be if we ever had to call on behalf of somebody and they had bond money you would come to the police department. We never accept anything over the phone,” Mathis said.

Police demanding money over the phone is just one of the many warning signs that are present in scam attempts. Agent Thomas says the list of warning signs is extensive.

“So, quite often the scammers will operate overseas and English is not their first language. So, look out for grammar or spelling errors. Also, keep an eye out for social media profiles that look brand new with little content or few friends. Never click on a random message with a link in it or any unsolicited direct messages. You know, be wary of requests to send money online via gift cards, wire transfers, payment applications, or requests to invest in cryptocurrency. Also, keep an eye out for posts or ads promoting a deal that seems too good to be true,” Thomas said.

With so many of these warning signs out there, agent Thomas says the FBI’s main plan for combating scams is by educating people about them. Mathis says the Carbondale Police Department is using multiple methods to try to educate as many people as possible.

“We have Facebook. We also have the Next-door app that we are starting to post things on. So every once and a while we’ll put some things out as far as letting people know there are scammers going on or we will directly address it if like in the case of where we had our Facebook post where somebody tried to scam by going into the messaging. We also will be able to go out to businesses or organizations and talk to them about scam prevention,” Mathis said.

Mathis says the focus stays in education because oftentimes local departments don’t have the money or time - or sometimes the ability - to track down scammers.

“A lot of times it comes down to the ability to investigate. We at the Carbondale Police Department don’t have really great resources to take our investigation outside the city limits. If it’s something that we can’t call somebody and get that information from, usually something like that we would pass on to another entity that would be able to handle that,” Mathis said.

Some of these entities may be the attorney general's office, the secret service, or the FBI. With so many cases being sent to these organizations from across the country, many may be lost, which is why Mathis and Agent Thomas say education is the key to combating online scams. To learn more about how you could help protect yourself from potential scams, visit the FBI website.

Ethan Holder is a student contributor for WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org
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