I was recently told about a local woman who had thankfully been saved from a scam that would have cost her thousands of dollars. What saved this woman from being fleeced of some $8,000 was a caring community which recognized warning signs and stepped in before it was too late.
The woman had been contacted by a stranger, and had been told that her grandson was in some trouble and needed thousands of dollars to get him out of that trouble. None of it true, of course, and the grandson called his grandmother upon hearing of the situation, easing her fears, and making it all too clear that she had been the victim of an attempted scam.
Thankfully friends and family stepped in to save the elderly woman thousands of dollars, but the scammer is still out there on the hunt for their next victim.
Though I would like to think that such stories would be rare, but the reality is that they are far too common, and have become increasingly problematic with the aid of technology.
When I searched the files on my computer for articles that we’ve published focused on scams of various types, dozens upon dozens of files were found, either warning about scams or reporting on victims of scams dating back to the beginnings of this newspaper more than 13 years ago.
While reviewing my scam-related files, I was reminded that in 2019 a Meaford woman was swindled out of $150,000 in a ‘romance scam’. In 2018 a Meaford woman was fleeced of $5,000 in a phone scam. Also in 2017, a Meaford resident fell victim to a ‘Microsoft scam’, and though they only lost $65 to the scam, that is $65 too much. Just one year prior a Meaford resident had been bilked of more than $2,000 in a similar ‘Microsoft scam’.
That’s just a handful of local stories of people being deceived by a scam, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, as scams are all around us and the pool of potential victims is large.
Scams have existed as long as humans have walked this planet, so they are nothing new, but in today’s world you are bound to encounter scams with a much greater frequency than at any time in our history, thanks largely to technology that has brought the world within easy reach of us all. Gone are the days of a confidence-man swindling folks out of a few dollars on their doorsteps; today’s con-men are invisible to us, lurking in the shadows, their identity shielded by technology, waiting to pluck funds from your bank account or to gain access to your credit cards in hopes of a payday in the tens of thousands of dollars for doing nothing but swindling the innocent.
The smartest among us can prove a fruitful victim for a scam artist, so it is important that we all are on high alert these days. The victims of scams are not just the elderly, though they are often targets of fraudsters. Scam victims come from all walks of life, and if you think you are safe from the efforts of scammers, you should likely think again.
Phone, internet, and email scams aside, to complicate matters even further it is becoming increasingly difficult to even trust our own eyes thanks to so-called ‘deep fake’ technology, which enables people to produce videos in which a person’s likeness can be manipulated to do and say things they have no knowledge of, creating new opportunities to dupe people. The videos are so real that it can be difficult if not impossible to spot, leaving us in a new world where we now cannot trust what we see with our own eyes and hear with our own ears.
Add in the ever advancing artificial intelligence (AI) technology, and any news media that utilizes video or audio is becoming increasingly subject to the potential for fraudulent video and audio clips being published by legitimate news sources, which will further erode the trustworthiness of media.
If you have never seen a deep fake video (that you know of), visit Youtube and search ‘Very realistic Tom Cruise Deepfake’ to view a sample. After watching the less than two-minute video, you might rightly question everything you see going forward, whether it be a news clip from mainstream media or an interview with a celebrity. And that’s just a simple two-minute Youtube video posted by a small account: imagine what can be achieved by the truly expert in the craft.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, but technology that can be weaponized and used to deceive or defraud is concerning indeed.
We are in real danger in the not very distant future of living in a world where nothing we see or hear can be trusted, a world where we might need to spend more time tracking down the provenance of video clips we see on the news in order to verify their legitimacy than any of us will have time for.
Life is difficult enough to navigate at the best of times – we could certainly do without a kettle of vultures constantly circling humanity watchful for their next victim to defraud.
If warnings were all that was needed, then scams would have ended long ago as we have all been subject to several warnings each year in recent decades, yet victims are still plentiful. We need to actually heed these warnings, and to ensure that the most vulnerable in our circles are shielded as much as possible and that we are watchful for even a hint of something amiss.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to ever be free of the potential to be scammed, so it is important that we all remain vigilant, that we watch out for our friends and neighbours, and that we teach our children the importance of identifying and avoiding scams in order to protect themselves and others.