Don’t be tricked by scammers’ use of social engineering


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Oct. 06, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Generally speaking, cops are tough. They know that bad things happen to good people, and they learn to deal with the hurt that victims endure.

Still, the sleaziness of some crimes gets to law enforcement officials. Lt. Paul Edwards of the Bangor Police Department says Internet criminals who prey on seniors really irritate him.

Edwards related the victimization of a kind-hearted Bangor resident who only wanted to help the stranger who called her asking for money. He seemed like a good sort who just needed a little help, so she withdrew money from her bank and wired him the funds he requested.

She got another call from someone else needing cash, and another and another. Each time, she believed the caller was in genuine need, and each time she responded like a good neighbor. As you’ve guessed by now, the callers were not in any real need; they were scammers, looking for a fast buck.

Such requests — whether by phone or email — tend to multiply. Once scammers get a positive response, they share contact information with other crooks. The requests are for larger and larger amounts and will continue as long as there’s a willing donor.

Edwards says members of the woman’s family urged her to stop, saying scammers were taking advantage of her good nature. The woman persisted saying that the callers were people who really needed her help. She had been taken in by what the experts call social engineering, and we need to learn how to avoid its traps.

Crooks use social engineering tricks to get you to do what they want. A caller might try to convince you that he’s a “friend of a friend” or a distant relative who’s gotten into a financial bind, and you’re the only one he can turn to. He may know a few personal details about you, which he weaves into your conversation. He’ll try to build a relationship as you chat, gaining your trust and ultimately getting you to send money by wire transfer. Impossible to trace, the money is gone forever.

Lt. Edwards said the woman’s family went to her bank, asking bank officials to try to talk the woman out of any large withdrawals she might make in the future. He believes those requests were only partially successful and that the woman has been parted with thousands of dollars over time.

“She wouldn’t trust her own children over this stranger she met over the phone,” Edwards said.

Another victim fell for the “grandparent scam,” where a caller claiming to be a grandchild said he/she was in trouble and needed money wired immediately, to “get out of jail,” “get my car back” or whatever. The manipulation was the same, and so, sadly, was the end result. After the money was wired, the victim checked with her children … the grandchild had been there, safe and sound, all along.

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Learn more about online safety at (

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or


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