As a New York Times reporter, I cover lots of scams – chinks in the armor of health care delivery, to name just one. And sometimes I come across devastating scams that target a particular segment of people. But sometimes I come across another group of fraudsters who are motivated by self-interest, greed and selfishness. Scammers, as Simon Johnson and I explained in our recent book, The Farewell Bomb, are especially dangerous because they seem like they’re not in it for the money. The first problem with scammers is that they frequently target people who suffer from serious health problems, whose money is already limited. The second problem is that once they’ve gotten their victims hooked, scammers are impervious to legitimate complaints – and can weather mass attacks on their stocks, ETFs, bonds, pension plans, or whatever has become their source of ill-gotten gains.
One of the most dangerous strategies for scammers is to engage in “phishing” and “pharming”. This is a sneaky technique that makes it seem like a concerned third party is seeking to inform you of a problem — like a scam alert. But they’re trying to buy your trust — their main aim is to steal your money. Phishing schemes are old and proven. Pharming refers to taking advantage of people who have already suffered financial hardship — say, a mutual fund investing mistake or a bad 401(k) investment. It’s a sick way to rake in cash — and you can protect yourself from such attacks.
On today’s pages, we’ve compiled a list of 10 scams that could do real damage to you or your loved ones. Some of them involve withdrawal traps – sort of like an ATM withdrawals present, if you’re worried about protecting a retirement nest egg. Others involve weapons of mass destruction – sort of like a carbon nanotube pump, if you’re worried about protecting your (or your loved ones’) physical health.
A few of these tactics you might already know about – like “phishing” and “pharming” – but you might be surprised to find out that many of them lie in the shadows of modern day American life. For example, you might not have realized that the Stork Posse, a group of pharmaceutical scammers, have also used “potential participant events”, an extremely successful tactic in scamming people into thinking that they’re an actual key figure in the development process of the rare disease that you might be suffering from. And yes, you can be a victim of some popular hoaxes, too – like those crafted by MyHeritage or Ancestry. As Emily Bazelon and Janine Wedel write in The New York Times Magazine, there are nearly 1,000 cases of those nonsense family trees and genealogy hoaxes floating around online right now.