Alva Review-Courier -

Estee Lauder is calling, or not


September 9, 2020

Working alone in the office on a quiet noon hour, I was interrupted by a phone call. Glancing at the caller ID, I was startled to see “Estee Lauder.” Why would the longtime cosmetic company be calling a newspaper in Alva, Oklahoma?

I answered, identifying the Alva Review-Courier, and there was a pause. Did some confused person enter the wrong phone number? Or was this the telltale pause of the telemarketer or scammer? Once the equipment recognized someone had answered, I had my answer.

A stern male voice (recorded) informed me that my Social Security account showed illegal or suspicious activity and would be frozen. I didn’t stick around to hear what dire punishment would be forthcoming unless I called back immediately. I laughed in wonderment that a clueless scammer chose the name of a cosmetic company to mask their caller ID.

We receive several calls a day at the office that start with “Don’t hang up …” which we immediately do. My most recent unwanted call was a notification that my vehicle warranty was about to expire with an offer to extend it. My answering machine at home records partial warnings involving my Social Security account or notices that my iTunes or iCloud account has been hacked and shut down.

In the recent AARP Bulletin, I read about someone receiving a call claiming Medicare was issuing new plastic cards because of the coronavirus and asking for her number. That’s a new one! Of course, you should never give a caller your Social Security number, Medicare number, driver’s license number, credit card or bank account number.

The number of robocalls dropped from 5.7 billion in October 2019 to only 3 billion in May because of COVID-19 according to Youmail, a call-blocking app company. But there are other ways you can be drawn into a scam.

Just Google It

One employee at the newspaper told me the best piece of advice my late husband ever gave her was to search the internet when she needed an answer to a question or was looking for information. I use internet searches all the time. When someone at a meeting mentions an unfamiliar acronym, I go to the internet. When I need an explanation of a process or a new piece of equipment being purchased for a city department, I search the internet first. It’s often quicker and easier than tracking down someone locally who can provide the answer. But that process can go awry.

AARP tells about a man in California who saw an unusual charge on his credit card for Amazon Prime. He did a quick internet search for Amazon’s phone number and called customer service. Unfortunately, the information that came up first in his search engine was a snare.

His call was answered, and he was told the charge could easily be removed. He just needed to confirm his credit card. Then he was asked for his Social Security number to confirm his identity. When he refused, he was given an alternative: Buy some Google Play gift cards for $150 and read them the codes off the back. He’d then be reimbursed for that amount, and the original charge would be removed from his account.

When he did that, he was told the transfer failed. When he returned to the store to buy more gift cards, the clerk warned him that he was being scammed.

When the man searched for the Amazon customer service number for Amazon Prime, he hadn’t looked closely at the results. He used one of many fake numbers that pop up in customer service searches for companies like Amazon, as well as for airlines, hotel chains, technical support for major email companies and others.

Crooks pay for carefully worded ads engineered to be at the top when certain phrases are searched. While search engine companies root out fake numbers as fast as they can, they remain visible long enough to hook lots of victims.

It’s not only computer or smart phone searches. Voice-search devices such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa can give you fake numbers of scammers, too.

AARP offers these tips to improve customer support searches (with some comments by me):

• Go directly to the company’s website to find its customer service number. (This can be annoying as some websites seem to hide contact information. Look for words like ‘about,’ or ‘contact,’ or ‘support.’)

• Don’t ask devices such as Alexa or Siri to find customer service information. (That goes for your smartphone voice assistant, too.)

• Check the URL for misspellings or other oddities. (The URL is the internet address of the site beginning with http or https.)

• Never agree to pay for a service that should be free. (Removing a charge from a credit card should not require a new payment.)

• Don’t give anyone remote access to your computer. (I’ve allowed this in a few instances when troubleshooting software I’ve purchased. I called them at a number provided with the software.)

Protecting Individual Information

While I appreciate how much I can learn through internet searches, it’s a bit scary how much information is available about individuals in the digital world. It can be interesting to Google your name. Mine turns up a lot of news articles I’ve written that have been posted on our website. Apparently there’s someone younger with my name living in Newark, Delaware.

Recently I finished reading a fictional account of what could happen if a large company collected huge amounts of data about individuals and developed software using that data. It’s as chilling as “1984” by George Orwell, a book on my high school English class reading list. (Big brother is watching you.)

“The Broken Window” by Jeffery Deaver features one of my favorite fictional detectives, Lincoln Rhyme. A former New York City police officer, Rhyme was seriously injured by a criminal he was pursuing and is now a paraplegic. He becomes a consultant to law enforcement, investigating crimes on the basis of evidence collected at crime scenes.

In this book, Rhyme faces “an Orwellian nightmare” as a twisted techno-genius destroys lives with impunity by stealing personal information from behind the impenetrable walls of cyberspace.

Here’s how an online seller describes it: Rhyme’s cousin Arthur has been arrested on murder charges, and the evidence against the estranged relative Lincoln hasn’t seen in years is perfect – too perfect. Lincoln and his partner Amelia Sachs piece together a deadly pattern of similarly vicious frame-ups that leads them to the imposing Strategic Systems Datacorp – and a master of identity theft and manipulation known only as “522.” But cracking this ingenious killer’s realm places Rhyme and Sachs exactly where “522” wants them – in line to be the next victims.

At the end of the book, Deaver lists websites for several organizations that are working to protect individual privacy on the internet.

The internet can be like the old Wild West so be careful online.


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