The biggest weapon in a scammer’s arsenal is fear. When we’re scared, our body produces adrenaline and our heart beats faster. We don’t think clearly and often make decisions we regret almost instantly. As users are becoming more sophisticated, scammers are upping their game. These days, many crooks use fear to terrify victims into acting immediately before they have a chance to think it over.  You may think, “Hey, I’d never fall for that!” But I know some pretty smart cookies who’ve been fooled in a panic. Let’s take a look at some of their shady fear-based cons.


  1. The Tech Support trick –  A window pops up on your computer or phone saying that there’s a problem. A virus or a serious system error. Sometimes it’s even accompanied by sound telling you that you must click a link or call a tech support number immediately. (The loud noise is especially good at wearing people down)  When this happens, it is always a scam. ALWAYS. Clicking that link may open your PC up to ransomware or spyware. Calling that number will lead you to sign up for phony tech support that can drain your bank account or steal your information. One of their favorite tricks is to tell you to use the event viewer. Most of the time you can get rid of an alert like that by simply closing your browser. If that doesn’t work, reboot your PC.   I recently received a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. He said that there was an error on my PC and that my PC would be erased if I didn’t call them immediately.  Again, absolute garbage.
  2. The IRS/FBI scam – Crooks send emails or make phone calls warning you that you’re in trouble with the IRS/FBI for an unspecified crime and that the authorities will come knocking down your door shortly if you don’t arrange to pay up. They’ll probably ask to be paid in gift cards, wire transfer, or Bitcoin. Let me tell you, these jerks can get pretty abusive when you catch on to them. Don’t fall for it. If the IRS has a quibble with you, they’ll send you a letter.
  3. The Grandparent scam – Scammers target people with phone calls, emails, or Facebook messages saying that a loved one is in trouble. They’ve either been arrested or injured and money is required right now for either bail or medical treatment. When I worked in news we covered cases where grandparents had lost thousands of dollars this way.
  4. The Blackmail scam – I covered this scam last week, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it again. Crooks contact you via email saying that they have compromising photos or evidence that you’ve viewed porn on your computer. They also state that they have part of your username (which they often do, but just part). They demand payment in Bitcoin or gift cards or they will make that information public.  These crooks don’t have your information. They’ve probably obtained part of your username or password by hacking a site that you use. Most sites don’t store full usernames and passwords in the same place. I would change my username and passwords, but I wouldn’t worry and I certainly wouldn’t give these pieces of garbage money.