Scammers take advantage of human frailty. Difficult circumstances can plunge anyone into a troubled state of mind, and, in such a state, people can make bad decisions. Financial problems may make people take chances that they may not normally take, like believing in a get-rich-quick proposition in an email. Suffering from a romantic breakup may cause a person to take a chance with a friendly person who contacts them online. These reactions are somewhat normal and hackers with insights into someone’s personal problems will always be ready to exploit them. Sure, this is bad enough, but what if the hacker intentionally causes the problems in the first place in order to exploit them later? That would seem to be a sign of hackers hitting a new moral low.
But such ‘double-tap’ attacks are becoming more and more common. Most of these scammers never had much of a moral compass in the first place. It’s all about the money. If they have to lie to a victim to gain their trust and get their money, so be it. It’s only a game. So why would such scammers leave a victim who is broken and disillusioned? After all, wouldn’t they be a perfect target for even more scams? In other words, why leave someone whom you have made vulnerable? Why not exploit this vulnerability as well? And so this is exactly what they do. Here are a few examples.
The details are a bit sparse, but, apparently, a Toledo, Ohio woman was scammed into giving money to a fake company, possibly for some purchase. Later, she was contacted by the same company and told that they wanted to repay her $800. Of course, she was happy to have the chance to get her money back. The scammers said all she had to do was to give them access to her bank account so that they could make the payment. “Unfortunately I did. I feel like the stupidest people in the world because this happened to me. I’m not a stupid lady but I was very stupid in this.” The result was a loss of $4000.
The type of scam the woman experienced is sometimes called a ‘refund and recovery’ or ‘reload’ scam. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “scam artists buy and sell ‘sucker lists’ with the names of people who already have lost money to fraudulent promotions.” In other words, there are lists of people who have already been scammed once. These lists contain personal information about the ‘sucker’ including how much they paid in the original scam. Thus, they are, in effect, perfect victims for a double-tap scam.
The scammers who buy these lists know that they have the names of desperate people who would like to get their money back. The scammers may pretend to be government agencies or companies who can help them. They may tell the victims that if they simply send a donation to a specific charity, they will be sent a refund for what they lost. Of course, the charity the scammers choose will be one that supports them. Needless to say, the victim will never get a refund. Other scammers will claim that they work for the government and, for a small fee, they will fill out the necessary forms for the already victimized victim to get a refund. Again, this never happens.
Here’s how one woman made it onto one of these sucker lists and how she was exploited. Keep in mind that the most profitable scam on the internet is the romance scam and no one is more vulnerable to double-tap attacks than someone caught up in this emotional trap. And it’s not always the romance that begins the double-tap scam. Katelyn George of Calgary, Canada was informed, via Facebook, that she had won $250,000 and a new truck in a contest.
As a struggling single mother of two boys, it was just the break she needed. However, when she tried to claim the truck, she was told it was being held at the border and she would need to pay some fees to release it. She paid the fees but was too embarrassed to tell how much this was.
In any event, at some point, she realized she had been scammed. But then, her luck changed, or so she thought. Hollywood star, Vin Diesel, contacted her and soon expressed a romantic interest in her. I know what you’re thinking. Who would be stupid enough to believe that Vin Diesel would suddenly become infatuated with a 32-year-old single mother in Calgary? I cannot answer this question. I can only say that intelligent people are scammed every day because people believe what they want to believe. Sadly, Vin’s company had a camera broken while filming his new movie. If only she would send him some money to help him out, they could soon be together. She sent the money. Vin never showed up.
Sadly, Vin did much the same to a 45-year-old German woman. In her case, Vin needed money after he had been mugged and robbed. “She said how she would drive through the city buying up gift cards with a value of between 50 and 200 EUR and sending the fake Vin Diesel the codes, in total sending around €5,500. She admitted: ‘I took out a loan for it, and didn’t give my children anything for Christmas.'” This story comes with a bit of a twist. After realizing she had been scammed, she asked the scammer who he really was. “I am 23 years old, a medical student, and I finance my studies this way. I’m sorry.” Yeah, I guess that makes it okay.
If this proves anything, it proves that sucker lists really do work. Perhaps, some people are naturally trusting and can never imagine anyone being truly evil. That’s what these truly evil criminals are banking on.
It is not uncommon for the same person to be romance-scammed twice by the same person using a different persona. In such cases, it’s not clear if the new scammer is someone who just got the person’s name off of a suckers list or was the original scammer trying another angle. This is what happened to Anne Robb of Cleveland, Ohio. “The last thing he said to me was, ‘What good are you if you can’t give me any money?’” Well, at least he was honest for once. She lost over $12000 dollars to him, which is relatively cheap as far as romance scams go.
Then came the double-tap. Anne was contacted by another man a few weeks later. “He said he was a pastor, and he knew I had been scammed. He said he had been praying for me and all this stuff.” Clearly, the second man would claim that he needed some money to bring the first man to justice and, possibly, get some of her money back for her. To Robb’s credit, she saw through the scam and closed down any contact with the helpful pastor. Others were not so perceptive. One woman in Washington has been scammed 5 times and lost tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, studies show that some people are simply more susceptible to scams. Maybe they are naturally naïve or overly sympathetic. Then again, maybe they really are flat-out stupid.
Any scam can be a source for a double-tap. Next to romance scams, pet scams seem to offer the most lucrative opportunities for scammers. Pets that originally sold for hundreds of dollars have been ‘scammed up’ to cost tens of thousands of dollars. “Your puppy will die unless it is shipped in a state-of-the-art container”, and so on.
There is much advice given for avoiding these scams. Romance scammers will instantly fall in love with you and then have an accident that causes them to need money. They will avoid video chats… or at least they used to.
A worrying development in romance scams was reported earlier this year. A woman in Wales frequently had video calls with her scammer. “Even my friends trusted him because he had video calls with them.” In fact, they never talked to him at all. The scammer had been using software and someone else’s photo to make it appear as if he was talking. The software allowed any photo to be converted to a video that mimicked the movements of the actual speaker. Take a look at a few examples here.
Sure, few people would believe Einstein was talking to them, but what if they got a call from Vin Diesel?
As the holiday season opens, scammers will find more and more creative ways to victimize people. This is a time to be more cautious than usual, especially if you have been a victim of a previous scam. Happy Holidays?