The musical The Music Man tells the story of Henry Hill and how he manipulates a whole town into believing they need a marching band. Of course in the story, through a relationship, he finds a change of heart, atones and in the end the town rescues him from legal troubles by actually putting together a marching band. In reality the story of The Music Man may be the exception rather than the rule. However, the play also shows how the ability to interact with people has transformed. In the play the communication was face to face; the “salesmen” traveled from community to community. As forms of communication evolved, the scammer no longer had to go door to door, but could reach us through the use of, radio, telephone and television.
With the internet the reach has become worldwide through the use of e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other types of social media. For example, an individual I was working with found a rental listing on Craig’s List with an emotionally charged story about why it was listed. The person completed an online application with identifying information including his social security number. The individual then went to look at the house and found there was a for sale sign from a local real estate company on the front yard. After researching the listing together we were able to identify it as a con. We contacted the real estate company. The real estate company had the individual follow-up with their office, who were working with the Attorney General’s office. The scam was based out of a country in Africa and had been using the local property as part of a larger internet scam. In reflecting on what happened the person stated, “It was the perfect house” with the “perfect story” that went with the listing on Craig’s List.
Therein lies the issue; when something feels right, we will “trust” the information before us. However, it is important to ask questions before responding to anything that looks good. The following are some suggestions of what to question:
- Be cautious of unsolicited e-mails. If you do not know the source do not open them.
- Guard your personal information. Do not provide any personal information unless you know the source.
- Be aware of imposters. Do not enter contests run by unfamiliar companies. The information you provide in an “entry form” may be used to find and target potential victims.
- Know who you are dealing with. If the seller or charity is unfamiliar check with state or local consumer protection agencies or if available read feedback from online forums or blogs. If possible, get an address and a phone number to verify legitimacy.
- Do not believe promises of easy money.
- Understand the offer. Make sure that all details about an online product or service are clearly spelled out.
- Resist pressures. If there is an immediate demand for action, it is probably a scam.
- Beware of “dangerous downloads.” Do not download from a source you do not know. Even if you know the source a virus can be attached to the download. Have up-to-date antivirus and mal-ware software on your computer.
It is important to understand our thoughts and feelings and ask questions before responding. Always have a healthy mistrust. If you have a question about a particular offer, you can explore if it is a scam through an internet search. Type in the program or activity followed by “scam” or “hoax” in the browser’s dialogue box and commence the search. Carefully examine the results for any postings that might identify whether the focus of your search is a scam, a hoax or is the real thing.
When being cautious in a busy world taking the time to do the research will save you hours of grief in the future. So as you explore the internet, always keep in mind “is it real or is it…..”