On a Sunday some time ago, I received a phone call from an unfamiliar number.
"Is this Siggy?" they asked.
I said yes, and asked who this was.
"This is Bank XYZ," the guy on the other end said. Apparently, I had unsettled credit card bills with Bank XYZ of $10,000 or so that were over 6 months overdue, and the bank was about to start bankruptcy proceedings unless I paid up.
Now, this is alarming news, especially since I do not have an account with Bank XYZ. If someone is able to open an account there in my name and apply for a credit card, which requires all kinds of highly sensitive info such as payslips from my employer, then I might be dealing with a serious case of identity theft. But I immediately realized 2 strange things:
1) Banks are very serious about getting their money back from you. If I really do owe Bank XYZ $10,000, there's no way they would wait 6 months to contact me, especially since they will know my contact info. In fact, there was one time I forgot to pay my credit card bill on time, and just 3 days later I received a very polite text reminding me about it (and also got slapped with a late payment charge).
2) As serious as they are about getting their money back, banks are not open on Sunday! Nothing stops them from suing my behind off on Monday instead!
Suspicious, I asked, "what branch are you calling from?"
The guy said, "Bank XYZ HQ."
So I said, "Alright, I'm busy right now, so I'll call your HQ back directly," thinking I would call the next day, Monday, before doing anything. I did check just in case, sure enough, Bank XYZ's customer support was Mon-Friday. The funny thing is, 30 mins later, I received a call from a different number claiming to be Bank XYZ HQ, and that confirmed beyond all doubt that I was dealing with a scammer. I hung up at once, and when I did call Bank XYZ on Monday, of course I had no credit card with them.
* * *
Apparently, I had been the target of a common financial scam. The next step for the scammer would have been to direct the victim to speak with an alleged anti-fraud agency officer, who would confirm that the victim had suffered identity theft and their bank accounts had to be investigated as a result, and that the victim had to transfer their money into a different account for these investigations, or be detained for interrogation. Any such money transferred out of the victim's account would never be seen again.
This incident got me thinking about financial scams and frauds, and I did some research on the issue, reading about common frauds, and testimony from victims of scamming attempts. Even as someone with a layperson's interest in human psychology, I was chilled to see how effectively scammers were able to manipulate their victims and short-circuit normal decision-making processes.
For example, a common technique is to put the victim in a state of panic and under some time pressure. The scammer will claim to be from some government agency, or an acting officer of a court, etc. and say that there is a case pending against the victim, that he/she has less than an hour to respond to. This makes the victim panic, and therefore reduces their ability to think rationally. This is why, when confronted with any threat of legal or police action by phone, you should never agree to take any action or give out any personal information in response over the phone. No serious lawsuit or governmental action will be done over a mere phone call. Get them to put it in writing, and when it appears in your mailbox, lawyer up, and if they don't put it in writing then you know it is not real.
But other techniques can be used to attack the victim, such as the classic scam where the scammer claims to be calling on behalf of a relative who is injured and hospitalized, and asks for some huge sum of money to pay for emergency medical treatment. Deepfake technology
can be used to make the scammer's voice sound like someone you know, and the caller ID can be spoofed to make it look like the call comes from a trusted phone number. This is why it's also important to get independent confirmation of shocking news from several trusted sources before taking any drastic action. The more serious the news is, the more confirmation should be required.
This is also why a common technique of scammers is to try and isolate the victim and prevent them from talking to third parties until the scam succeeds. Usually, privacy laws or legal restrictions will be cited, e.g. the scammer, masquerading as a police officer, will tell the victim not to divulge details to anyone else, including their relatives or friends, as the case is still under investigation. In a phone scam, the victim may be instructed not to hang up, and the scammers may constantly question and engage the victim to prevent them interacting with others. Another technique sometimes used is to keep getting the victim to do simple tasks (like copying down a case number, giving their address, answering simple questions, or repeating back what the scammer says to confirm they heard it correctly, etc.). This gets the victim in the mindset of complying with the scammer's instructions, and makes them less likely to question what they are being told to do.
Considering the depth of the scammer's arsenal, in retrospect, I was lucky I was attacked by a newbie who was not yet very good at his job. By the way, I recommend you read up on social engineering
, and more generally the art of psychological manipulation
, so that you can identify these techniques being used on you.
I was reminded of all this because today, I received an in-game tell from someone claiming to be giving away all their stuff. Needless to say, it's another scam! Don't visit the page and enter your password!
(Image is a screenshot from someone else, but it's the same tell I received.)
Falling victim to FFXIV phishing scams is a small matter. You won't be able to play for a couple days while SE does a rollback on your account, but in the end you'll get your gil and items back. Even if you lose the account completely, in the grand scheme of things, a lost FFXIV account is still not a big deal.
However, if you lose your lifetime savings to a scammer, there will be no rollback, and your life plans (e.g. retirement or buying a house or car) will be seriously affected. Especially in these economically difficult times, where criminals are more active then ever, it's important to protect yourself and be aware of the lengths unscrupulous people will take to get your money.
And no matter the reason or who tells you to - whether it's the FBI, CIA, Interpol or MIB - don't give out your OTP for any banking transactions!