It was nice to meet you the other day at that event. After we were introduced, we partook in some idle chit-chat. Do you recall our conversation? You sure do love your job—I couldn’t help but notice how much you liked talking about your company and what you do. And you must be very proud of your children and pets. I enjoyed looking at their photos and learning all their names and ages.
You thought we were just making small talk. Small talk is forgettable, right? Given the circumstances of where we met, you probably had your guard down; after all, we were both at the same function, so we must have had something in common. Did you happen to notice that you did most of the talking? Sure, I told you a bit about myself, but now that I have you looking back on that day, can you be sure anything I said was even real?
What if I told you I stood in line behind you at the bank? I overheard you talking to the teller while waiting my turn, and I got a glimpse of your driver’s license and that big check you were cashing, because you didn’t try to hide it.
Or maybe I sat behind you on the bus, admiring the reflection of your phone in the window while you passed the time answering your email or updating your social networks. When you finally tore your eyes away from your screen long enough to check up on me, I appeared to be doing the same. Or was I?
How can you be sure I wasn’t listening when the bank teller called you by name and then started helping you? How do you know I wasn’t looking when your eyes were glued to your mobile phone on the bus? More importantly, do you care? You should, seeing as you don’t know me.
I’ve been online since there was an online. I watched offline scams turn into online scams. I know why and how online scammers do what they do, and could easily join the dark side. In fact, lot of people have entrusted me with their information over the years. I could make you sorry you ever met me.
Fortunately, I’m one of the good guys.
You need to understand that not all scammers are shady foreigners. Granted, in today’s world, some of the money made overseas from online fraud could be funding terrorism, but many scammers are more like you and me—in and out of work, running short on cash and just trying to find a way to keep their creditors from knocking down their doors. More often than not, scams are perpetrated by people you wouldn’t usually suspect. It could be someone who’s just a little down on his luck. But it could also be a colleague at work, someone who has access to sensitive company information. Or maybe a disgruntled former employee. With the click of a mouse they can sell all kinds of corporate secrets, from unreleased software code to user data, including yours. People in financial trouble sometimes take advantage of the stupidity of others if it means being able to live to fight another day.
Now, as a scammer, I’ll probably try to learn as much as I can about you without actually having to talk to you. I prefer to skim for the easiest info: your name, address, email address, phone number—info that most people don’t bother to hide. If I can get the basics, I might be able to steal from you without you grasping the extent of the damage you just brought onto yourself until it’s too late.
But if I can’t find any information about you that way, I’ll have to find some other way to insinuate myself into your world to get what I want. I can weasel my way into your social networking circle by posing as a job recruiter or former work colleague, by pretending to have gone to the same high school, or by affiliating myself with groups you’re affiliated with, so I can gain your confidence and thus learn more. I’ll use that information to see if I can break into your email or bank account, all from the comfort of my own sofa.
If I do decide to scam you, I’m not going to make a big production out of it. I’ll get what I need out of you without you ever realizing the size of the bull’s-eye on your forehead. Once I’m done with it, I’ll sell your info on the black market, and by the time you realize you’re a victim, you’ll be blaming someone else.
The point is, online scammers aren’t all foreigners overseas. In the course of an average day, you’re probably brushing shoulders with several scammers without even knowing it. So the more you share about yourself online, and the less you pay attention to the world around you while you do it, the more vulnerable you’ll be.