Hoaxes and scams have an emotional impact
Countless people have lost millions of dollars to hoaxes and online scams, but the biggest collective loss is in trust. Losing confidence hurts us more than money ever could.
Internet deception plagues everyone from a child waiting for a pet to a retiree waiting for a Social Security check.
Let’s treat pets first, because these scams have become common during the pandemic.
A lot of people, including me, wanted a kitten or puppy to help relieve the stress of working at home. Unbeknownst to us, there are hundreds of scam websites that prey on your desire for that perfect pet.
For example, I wanted a Maine Coon but I almost got scammed.
The internet has accustomed us to getting anything we want on demand, and many fall for these scams.
When you google “Maine Coon kittens for saleâOr crowdsourcing for them on Facebook, you’ll get hundreds of websites with adorable pets that somehow weren’t reserved, selling for lower prices.
Here is a screenshot of a scam site. (All pet scams use the same methods.)
The photos shown here are likely stolen from reputable breeders registered with the International Cat Association Where Association of cat lovers. The kittens would cost thousands. But wait, there is a sale on this site! You can get these gorgeous cats for $ 400 each.
If you click on “Buy Now”, you will not be able to call this breeder. Everything will be done online through their websites. But wait, there is more! You will get your kitten with a half-price shipping rate of a few hundred dollars.
It’s a good deal, and your pet will be shipped immediately.
You will be asked to pay through Venmo or Zelle or another payment site. As soon as you press “send” your money is lost.
By now you and perhaps your children have emotionally invested in a particular pet. You have become a prime target for more deception.
Here’s what comes next. Boarding fees will be requested. Maybe the animal missed its flight or got sick and now you have to pay for a ventilated cage as well as vet fees. And if you decline, threats of animal abandonment and legal fees ensue.
You will never have the kitten or the puppy.
There are so many such sites that as soon as you report one to the website hosting company, the scammer just creates another site with a new name and the same script.
How to spot a scam
To check if you are dealing with a scammer, go to the “About” tab of the site. Select and copy a suspicious phrase that doesn’t quite sound quite right, perhaps a phrase with a clunky word or a phrase that is rarely used. Then paste this suspicious sentence on an Internet search engine.
If it’s a scam, you’ll see multiple websites with the same phrase, all featuring kittens pictured with different backgrounds (as photos are stolen from various legitimate breeders).
Other popular scams include Amazon incidentals, Social Security / IRS violations, and internet / phone service refunds.
No matter the scam, scammers often read from the same script.
Case in point: IRS scammers will state that you have been audited and need to pay penalties with gift cards or face jail time.
The scam was so successful that the IRS a video about it.
But this is just one of the thousands of scams that most of us deal with or ignore on a daily basis. AARP reports up to 150 million illicit calls per month.
Hoaxes do as much damage as scams. These are associated with mainstream and social media and attack our fears, beliefs and values. Here are the most common:
- Fear of a certain ethnicity, social class or political group.
- Belief that people who look different are inherently immoral, moral, unintelligent or intelligent.
- Belief or skepticism about the paranormal.
- Conviction regarding a political party, a candidate, a religious deity, etc.
Hoaxes usually persuade us to act by affirming our fears or validating our biases. And at the age of deep scythes, voice cloning and plots, we might just take the bait and base our life choices on lies.
Coping with the emotional fallout
The result is not in wasted funds but in the loss of confidence and the pervasive feeling that everyone is trying to cheat us.
If you are worried or think you have been scammed, visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission on what to do and how to report fraudulent activity.
If you’ve been scammed, you probably feel unhealthy symptoms, including anxiety, shame, depression, fear, insomnia, and more.
There is no government entity to help with this. Restorative practices include forgiving yourself; join a local support group; confide in a psychologist, pastor, mentor or trusted partner; and become active in your community.
Serving others, especially in volunteering, builds self-confidence and confidence in others. It is often the best medicine.