“This is the Social Security Administration. We’re sorry to inform you that your Social Security number has been suspended....” Click to delete: that was my response to several messages left on my answering machine this week. I’m sure by the time this appears in the paper, I’ll have deleted even more. A friend was trying to tell me about a scam and I managed to complete the sentence with him because he’d received the same message about his Social Security number. Not only do we both know that the Social Security Administration will never call us, neither of us has ever heard of someone’s number being suspended.
That’s not the only recent scam. My synagogue sent out a message recently noting that the rabbi and/or the synagogue office will never call/e-mail asking for money. They might give information about a current fund-raiser, but would never ask you to send cash or gift cards. That’s one clue that something is a scam. Think about it for a minute. When you write a check or use a credit card, you have a way to track your payment. Once you’ve sent a gift card or cash, that money is gone and you’ll never see it again.
When I used to explain these scams to my mother – usually as part of a request to please, please, please don’t answer the phone when you don’t know who is calling – she’d ask why someone would do this. One easy answer is money. Another is the feeling of power that comes with having fooled someone. Those are the same reasons people create computer viruses and/or take a computer hostage for ransom.
Of course, trying to explain the reason behind this, or other, behavior doesn’t always work. That’s because humans are basically irrational. Take, for example, the latest anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. Did you know that some people actually believe that Jews are responsible for the coronavirus? I don’t want explain their reasoning because it makes my head hurt. Other groups are cheering the fact that some Israelis are sick. What’s sick, as in sickening, is reading a post on a new extremist website about those three Israelis: “3 down, 5,999,997 to go!”
While human nature has not changed, what has changed is the instant access the Internet gives us to learn about these theories. What has also changed is that we can post material and create websites anonymously. The person saying horrible things about you online could, in the real world, be pretending to be your best friend. The person scamming you could be your friendly neighborhood storekeeper or a person halfway across the globe who doesn’t know anything about you personally. These scams and conspiracies may not aimed be at you as an individual, but as one of any interchangeable individuals. They’re looking for someone naive or unknowledgeable enough to fall for their pitch.
The worst part is that we are all vulnerable – even the smartest of us can make a mistake due to fatigue or fear or mishearing what’s said to us. While on the one hand, technology has made life easier, on the other, it’s also created a new set of problems.