Use Google to Detect Online Fraud and Phone Fraud
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Most people don’t realize what a powerful tool Google is and how it can be used to detect, or even confirm, scams that target us in email, on websites, or even via text messages. Google can even help us identify fraudulent telephone calls! If you take the time to learn these tips, and use them before you reply to an email, or before clicking a link, downloading an attached file, or sending your personal information to someone, you’ll be a lot safer using the Internet and smartphones.
1. Search for Content
Sometimes our TDS members receive emails, Facebook posts or even texts from people who claim all sorts of things. Some of these are scams while others are just dumb urban legends that friends or family with good intentions continue to send because they never took the time to verify the claims. Whenever you receive something that is questionable, “too good to be true,” or just because you are now web-smarter and wiser, do the following… Select a sentence or two from the suspicious content and enter it into a Google search field. Hit return. This will check to see if other people are talking about the same thing (or nearly the same thing) and what they are saying about it. Here are several examples using this strategy and the results clearly show that these are all scams:
a) Email subject: Your ATM Card
A TDS member received the email below. We copied the opening sentence and posted it into a Google search field: "sorry for the delay in this message, On Friday we were checking over some files and packages in the office and we discover an ATM CARD which was address on your Name." Check out the top links Google returned and the websites they came from... scamwarners.com, antifraudintl.org, 419Scam.org, etc.
b) Email subject: Greetings
Again, we copied the opening sentence and dropped it into Google "I am Sgt. Cynthia Ivy May (US Army) on active duty in Sana, Yemen." Again, we see Google's links include some worrisome websites that report on scams of this type.
We're sure you get the idea now but we're really enjoying ourselves exposing this junk. Here are 2 more pairs to help make our point. We could do this all day!
Before we leave this tip we would like to point out that this is a very effective strategy to tell truth from urban legend. You know? ...those emails saying things like deodorant causes cancer, there are crocodiles in the N.Y. city sewers, Microsoft will donate 5 cents to a good cause every time you forward this email.
2. Search Phone Numbers
We can’t tell you how many times per week we wonder why we keep our home landlines. (The landline is the conventional copper-wire telephone strung from a house across telephone poles to some company’s telco closet. As opposed to a cell phone.) The only calls we ever get on our landlines anymore are from our mothers (or mothers-in-law), solicitations for money, requests to participate in a survey, or scams, such as mortgage and credit card scams. And most of the charity solicitations turn out to be scams too!
You can use Google to help you weed out the fraud from legitimate calls. In order to make use of this trick, you have to have Caller ID on your phone so you can get some basic information about the incoming call before you pick it up. (And for the record, we never answer any call that says “out of area,” or starts with an area code where we don’t have a friend or family member living within.)
The next time you get a call from an unknown phone number, either write down the full number (and don’t take the call! If it’s truly important they will leave a message or call back.) or quickly visit Google.com on your nearby computer, and enter the full phone number of the incoming call. Click search.
You will see many website links returned by Google who claim to offer information about the phone number you just entered. Many of these websites charge a fee and some are scams themselves. However, somewhere in the top 8-10 links are two gems: WhoCallsMe.com and 800Notes.com. Ignore all the other websites! These two websites provide a forum for visitors to post messages about the calls they get. And lots of people report scam calls and suspicous callers. Both of these websites are owned and run by a very savvy woman from North Carolina. Think of her as the “David” in the David versus Goliath equation. You go girl! Click here if you want to read about one of her successful “David versus Goliath” stories.
Open Google.com and search each of these numbers. From amongst the returned links, click ONLY the links found at either WhoCallsMe.com or 800Notes.com and have fun reading people’s posts about the callers:
3. Investigate domain names, companies, and even non-profits looking for donations
Many people don’t realize how powerful Google is as an investigative tool. Use it to search for the names of websites you are considering using, companies you are evaluating or the names of people at those companies. As important as it is to find something, it is also important if you find nothing at all. Suppose you receive contact from a company claiming to help your business, or provide services. Or suppose you received a call, letter or email from someone claiming to represent a charity, you can use Google to help you check their authenticity. Two important things to keep in mind…
a) Finding nothing at all should make you suspicious too!
b) If you don’t find anything bad through Google, it doesn’t mean that the folks you are investigating are legitimate. Google is best used to see if others are posting negative things about a company or organization.
A special note about charities and other non-profits:
Use the website CharityNavigator.org to evaluate every charity before donating any money to the charity. You might learn, as we have, that some charities take 50 – 90% of your hard-earned money to pay for their own salaries, leaving just pennies for those they claim to serve. Here’s a 2013 CNN article about this offensive practice! For example, using CharityNavigator.org we learned that the charity Homes for Our Troops spends about 86% of its budget on veterans, while the National Veterans Services Fund spends less than 20% of every dollar on vets. Who would you rather give your money to?