“Is this your name? This is the Seoul Prosecutor’s office. We heard that a large sum of money has been taken from your account. To recover this loss, you should do as we say.” These days, we know this as a starter line for phone scam. Similar starter lines for a scam text message would be “Mom, it’s me. My phone is broken so I’m sending this on a computer.”, usually followed by requests of gift card purchases. Phone scam of similar sort has been so prevalent and low in quality that there are many compilations videos featuring witty comebacks, hysterical laughs and befuddled scammers roaming the internet, almost like a meme. However, phone scam might not be as laughable as we think when it puts on a harmless façade and offers to deliver what we want in exchange for a ‘small fee’, take us by surprise by calling out personal information, or simply targets broad issues that have been bothering us. Unfortunately, the prolongation of COVID-19, seems to have brought quite a lot of bothersome issues for everyone to worry about, ranging from unemployment to a sudden lack of leisure activities. This means more topics for the scammers to approach us with.
The prevalence of citizens worrying over monetary instability has created an environment where economic criminals can reuse the similar scenarios on unsuspecting citizens, with a higher success rate of scamming them. The sheer number of arrests reflects how criminals saw the un-tact environment as a new ground for deception. According to the Korea National Office of Investigation, more than 11,200 people have been arrested for phone scam during the 5 month span from February to June. On top of that, more than 12,000 people arrested during the same time period were charged for online transaction related fraud.
Considering the increase of criminals and the upgrade of their method of deception, we can see that we as college students may not be free from clever- crafted un-tact scams targeting our needs. For instance, a message may appear to originate from a popular platform, ‘Netflix’. Offers of “free-of-charge” services (along with the note stressing that everyone is eligible for this “special offer”) stamped with the Netflix logo would make it look harmless enough. Clicking on the offer would open a series of webpages and directions to enter personal information and credit card numbers. With the expectation of free movies and leisure time, we just might type in our information, only to find out that nothing happens. It would be too late when we find out there are no instances where Netflix offers a free streaming service via message or E-mail. The almost believable faux imitation webpages were designed to collect individual credit card information, which would be used for further crime, or sold by the criminal. (This quick hypothetical situation is quite common, and the writer is sheepish to admit that she also was on the verge of typing away in several encounters with faux websites, only to come to her senses after looking up what it really was on the internet.)
Though varied in method and target, criminals target deprivation because it makes the subject vulnerable and blinds them into overlooking the red flags that gives the crime away. In the midst of a pandemic, it is natural to face blue days where we feel especially deprived of what we used to have pre-COVID (extra cash from part time jobs, mingling with friends, offline classes). However, we should be careful lest this deprivation blinds us into taking malicious offers that seem too good to be true. In a world where it is natural to say “Stay safe” in parting, let us stay guarded from not only the virus, but also crime that targets the byproducts of our COVID blues.