The first thing I should say about Adam is that his name is almost definitely not Adam.
The next thing I should say about Adam is that he seems to know nothing about me, other than my name and my mobile number. He definitely has no idea how much I have been looking forward to his call.
When a Dutch number flashes up on my phone screen I answer immediately. I don’t know anyone in the Netherlands and as my phone trills, I am thrilled, because I think I know why someone is calling me at midday on a Tuesday from that country. When Adam asks if I have a few minutes to talk to him about some exciting news he has for me, my suspicions rise further.
Because this isn’t my first dance at the disco of deceit. Just days earlier another man, possibly a friend or colleague of Adam’s, had phoned me — equally out of the blue — from what sounded like the same call centre with equally exciting news. Today I am ready and press Record.
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Adam starts the wooing process by telling me he works with a company that has been managing my crypto investments (of which I have none). He explains that some bitcoin I bought several years ago is still resting in my account but has been frozen as a result of inactivity on my part.
Bitcoin? How much bitcoin”? I ask Adam; 2.9 bitcoin he responds.
How much is that in real money?
He pauses for half a second, as though consulting an exchange rate calculator, before telling me that it’s about €60,000 based on today’s rates.
Poor Adam. If he knew anything about me, he would know I’m really not the bitcoin type. I know virtually nothing about cryptocurrencies or how to buy them and I certainly was not wise enough to invest in them back in 2017.
I ask Adam what I can do to access this windfall and he assures me that he has me covered; he will take care of me.
The first thing he needs to know, he repeats — almost as if reading a badly written script — is that my account has been frozen as a result of my inactivity in the crypto market. To unfreeze it I need to transfer 1 per cent of the total value of my €60,000 back into the frozen account, after which I will be able to transfer the total amount back out of the newly defrosted account, and into an account of my choosing.
In even better news, Adam assures me my windfall will be tax-free.
Feigning excitement, I ask Adam what 1 per cent of €60,000 is but he brushes my maths question aside and assures me that we will get there. We have work to do first, he says.
He asks if I am familiar with an app called Anydesk. As it happens I am wearily familiar with Anydesk because it is what the eternally patient Irish Times IT team sometimes need to get remote access to my laptop when they have to fix things I have broken. I tell Adam I have it on my laptop already.
He sounds happy and asks for my Anydesk number. I ask if this is going to give him access to my computer. Adam sounds slightly miffed — insulted even — at the suggestion that me giving him the six-digit Anydesk code for my laptop might give him access to my machine.
He won’t have access to my computer at all, nothing like that. He will just be able to see exactly what I am doing on my computer and will act as my guide while I transfer €600 — by my reckoning — to my bitcoin account.
I am starting to despair for Adam. He doesn’t seem that bright and is zero craic and unwilling to deviate from his script. I grow bored by our chat so I do what I knew from the start I was going to do and I challenge Adam.
I ask him why he is doing what he is doing, how many calls like this he has made today and if he is comfortable with the life choices that have taken him to this moment.
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Adam is confused. This is not in his script. He doesn’t really know why I am asking these questions of him when all he wants to do is guide me to my riches.
I tell Adam I am recording our call and I accuse him of being a criminal and scam artist. He is really shocked. He denies it. I can feel my indignation levels rising to match his. He keeps denying that he is up to no good.
I tell him that I have recorded our conversation and am going to share it with the world. He hangs up.
And that is exactly what you should do if Adam or any of Adam’s pals ever calls you offering you riches in exchange for information.
Scams and how they work
There are two key elements to Adam’s crypto scam. First, the caller asks the target to send money to a particular account, to “unlock” an amount of cryptocurrency. In this case, it would have been €600 but the sum can vary wildly. No matter how small the amount, the danger is the same.
Second, the caller gains access to the victim’s computer and online banking and drains their accounts.
This is one of several common scams. Here are 10 others to be wary of.
1. The romance scam: Victims are lured into “relationships” with fake people. Trust is established — sometimes over months — after which victims are asked for money so their “new love” can visit them or invest on their behalf, or help a sick family member. Once the victim’s money is gone, so is the criminal.
2. The fake rental: Criminals exploit the housing crisis to get desperate people to pay deposits for rental properties that do not exist.
3. Caller ID spoofing: Calls come from what look like real Irish numbers carrying warnings about compromised PPS numbers and imminent arrests unless certain actions are taken.
4. The fake invoice scam: Criminals send emails to businesses claiming to be genuine suppliers that the target does real business with. The emails contain requests to update bank account details on record for the supplier and give a new bank account. The account is controlled by the criminals. The next time a legitimate invoice falls due, the money is sent to the criminal’s account.
5. The smishing scam: Text messages that look like they have come from banks or credit unions ask people to follow a link or submit some personal details on the basis that suspicious activity has been noted on a particular account. The messages are fake.
6. The bogus delivery scam: Messages from a delivery company alert you that a delivery has been unsuccessfully attempted. Or a message might land warning that customs charges have been attached to a delivery which is being held until you pay up. The text message will come with a link to a site that is dressed up to look legitimate. It isn’t. The messages are fake.
7. Cryptocurrency scams: The scam outlined above is not the only crypto scam out there. There are all manner of promises of large returns on crypto investments.
8. The missed call scam: You miss a call from an unknown number and when you return it, you get through to an answering service that is actually a premium-rate service. You pay a heavy price for the call.
9. The streaming scam: A mail arrives telling you there is a problem with your Netflix subscription and to update payment details on their site. You follow the link and the site looks legitimate but is part of an elaborate scam.
10. The blackmail scam: A mail arrives saying a person has been monitoring your activities online and has a video of you doing something you might not want the rest of the world to see. They promise to share that video with the world unless you pay them. To add credibility they may include details of a password only you know. The password was almost certainly compromised in a hack of a company you have an account with, with some of your details sold on the dark web,
How to stay safe
- If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.
- A good rule of thumb is that no one is ever going to contact you with a get-rich scheme unless it is a scam.
- Any unsolicited email requests, text messages or phone calls seeking personal information should be ignored.
- Never follow links embedded in emails or text messages.
- If you are inputting personal details, make sure the web address starts with https (the “s” stands for secure) as opposed to just http.
- Never open attachments from people you don’t know.
- Don’t accept random friend requests on Facebook,
- Never grant access to your information to apps with which you are not familiar.
- Always give yourself time to think. Speed is the currency of the criminal. They will tell you of the need to act fast. Don’t pay any heed.
- Be suspicious. If anyone you don’t know or have never met asks you for any personal information, consider that a red flag and think long and hard before exposing yourself in any way.