chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience Archives

Tech Column: Beware the Scammers

Jeffrey M Allen and Ashley Hallene


  • Learn to recognize prevalent scams and frauds including imposter scams, online shopping scams, prize/sweepstakes/lottery scams, internet service scams, employment scams, cyber currency scams, and bad check scams.
  • Complete avoidance of scams is challenging, however, implementing protective measures significantly reduces the risk of falling victim to fraudulent activitie such as protecting your devices, using strong passwords, avoiding public Wi-Fi, and being cautious with emails.
Tech Column: Beware the Scammers

Jump to:

In 2021, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) received 2.8 million fraud reports. Consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion dollars, a 70% increase over 2020. The top 5 most reported category of scams were imposter; online shopping; prize, sweepstakes, and lottery; internet service; and business and job opportunity scams .

Imposter Scams

The story usually goes like this: you meet someone on an online dating website. That someone wants to move off the site to email or phone calls. You talk about your jobs, family, and friends. He or she usually lives somewhere too far away for you to easily meet in person. Eventually, he or she professes their love and, if the scammer works it right, it feels real.

Then something happens. The imposter scammer loses a job or needs a medical procedure (or has a child or parent in need of medical attention). Maybe the person wants to meet you in person, but needs money for a plane ticket. You think to yourself, “I have talked to this person every day, I love this person, I want to help them.”

Male and female imposter scammers make fake dating profiles, sometimes with real pictures and sometimes using photos of others found on the internet. The moment this virtual person starts asking you for money, alarms should go off in your head.

Related imposter scams focus primarily on the elderly and have the scammer contact the victim claiming to be their grandchild. Here the scammer asks for the victim to send money to help them out of a jam.

Online Shopping Scams

Online shopping scams have exploded since the pandemic shutdown stores. In this scam, you purchase something online, then either do not receive it, receive something different from the online representation, or receive something that does not work. Shady online retailers put up websites offering hard-to-find items, or items at incredibly discounted prices. You purchase the item and then encounter processing delays and shipping delays. Ultimately, you realize that you won’t receive the item.

Scammers have the ability to produce convincing websites and have incorporated social media and online advertising into their portfolio. They obliterate warnings and negative reviews by disappearing and returning under a new name.

According to the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), which maintains a scam-tracker for bogus pet sites, pet scams more than doubled between 2019 and 2020, and continue to rise at exponential rates. According to the BBB, pet scammers model their websites after legitimate puppy breeders, sometimes even using the same fonts, pictures, and description. The BBB says that pet scammers usually do not allow the buyer to meet the animal in person. They often require the use of some kind of pet delivery service, with a mountain of additional services required when it is time for delivery, such as special crates or transportation.

How do you spot an online pet scam? The biggest tip will be when they ask for payment via some online platform, such as Zelle, Venmo, or CashApp, or by MoneyGram or Western Union. The second telltale sign is that you are not able to see the puppy in person first. The third is when they ask for money, in addition to the adoption fee and any agreed upon purchase price.

Prize/Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams

“Congratulations! You won the lottery/contest/sweepstakes, etc.!” This scheme seeks to get you to share personal information, like bank account numbers, to enable the scammer to “wire” you the money. They may also say you will get mailed a check or package, and “all you have to do” is put in credit card information to cover a small shipping and handling fee. Like life, nothing on the internet is ever free.

Internet Service Scams

Someone claiming to be from a company you use contacts you and offers a huge discount on your service cost in exchange for a large upfront payment. You may get a call from someone claiming to be a representative from the company’s “loyal rewards” program. The caller offers you an appealing discount on your monthly service, claiming that “for a small monthly fee” you can get loads of benefits.

Then comes the ask. To take advantage of this deal, you have to pay a sizable fee up front. These callers are tricky, and they may have some of your information already. A great deal of personal information about innocent consumers has accumulated on the “Dark Web,” where bad guys can purchase it. Scammers can also acquire phone numbers from third party data providers. You can look up the phone number on a website like or (The latter website will match the phone number to the owner and give out addresses, phone numbers, and even emails affiliated with that person, along with their approximate age. It can even identify people associated with that person.) With a phone number, the scammer can learn your name, and with your current address, they can make an educated guess as to your current service provider.

Tell the caller you cannot continue the phone conversation, and that you will reach out to the company directly for the details another time. The fastest way to avoid the scam is to just hang up.

Employment Scams

The baby boomer generation is working more than any aging generation before them. Often, they seek to work past retirement age to obtain health insurance, a better retirement fund, or earn extra income. Scammers take advantage of this by offering fake job listings. They send out a solicitation requiring submittal of an application with your social security number and other personal information. They can sound quite convincing, offering a job that promises insurance and the opportunity to earn commissions, but you can get hired and work for months before learning the entire thing is a scam. These jobs often appear as sales and telecommunications jobs. Some common ways to spot a job scam include:

  • You need to pay to get the job.
  • You need to provide your credit card or bank information.

Cyber Currency Scams

In this type of scam, the bad guy tries to befriend you and then starts talking about how they buy and sell cyber currency. They try to convince you that they want to share with you the knowledge they have about buying and selling cyber currencies. They offer to help you by investing your money in cyber currencies. Best response: “Just say NO!”

Bad Check Scams

While sometimes coming in the form of email or text messages, bad check scams most often occur over the phone. Someone contacts the proposed victim and tells them their last payment to the utility company, phone company, cable company, etc. (pick a vendor) did not clear. They will then try to get you to log onto a phony website and make a payment or give them credit card information over the telephone. If this situation occurs, the odds favor that such a call comes from a scammer. If you have any doubt, contact the vendor directly and check the status of your account. (Do not use the URL provided to you by the suspected scammer. It undoubtedly leads to a phony site built to look like the real deal!)

Staying Safe

When it comes to scams, you can make yourself a big target or a small target. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of becoming a target for scammers:

  1. Protect your devices physically. If you have accessed a device and leave it unattended before it goes back to requiring a password for access, anyone can pick it up and have the same access you do.
  2. Set your devices to require a password after a short time of inactivity.
  3. Protect your devices with strong passwords and/or biometric access. A strong password consists of a minimum of eight characters including alphabetic, upper- and lowercase-, numeric, and symbolic characters. Longer passwords provide greater protection.
  4. Protect your accounts with strong passwords and/or biometric access.
  5. Do not use the same passwords or access codes for multiple accounts.
  6. Do not use public WiFi (carry your own cellular hot spot).
  7. Use a virtual private network (VPN) if you use public WIFI.
  8. Use a secure password for your cellular hotspot.
  9. Do not respond to questionable e-mails.
  10. Do not click links in questionable e-mails.
  11. Do not download attachments from unknown sources.

E-mail scams may seek professional or personal access; you need to protect both your personal and your professional situations.

Bottom line: You cannot completely avoid exposure to scams, you can only limit the risk of that exposure. Accordingly, we do not really talk about risk avoidance, except in abstract terms. In the real world, we talk about risk mitigation. If you do everything recommended in this article, you may still get stung by a scam. But the odds of being scammed greatly diminish with each protective measure you properly employ. Sometimes you can get lucky, do nothing, and not get stung; but you have strong odds against that happening.

An expanded version of this article appears in the May/June 2022 issue of GPSolo, the magazine of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division. Portions of this article previously appeared in GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport.