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EDITORIAL: Is it a scam?

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HOW GOOD ARE YOU AT DETECTING strangers trying to steal money from you? How long has it been since somebody tried?

It used to be that thieves left evidence of their crimes. Now, if you have any kind of device connected to the internet, you have to learn to be wary of digital scammers who enlist your help ripping you off.

But what if you only read a newspaper to get your news. Surely you’re secure from online bad guys, right? Yes and no. Here’s what happened to The Columbia Paper in the last couple of weeks.

We received an email from a person requesting a classified advertisement. The text of the ad the advertisement offered two golden retriever puppies to give away—one puppy to each of two homes. In addition to the email address and a phone number that indicated messages could be sent via text. Normally we don’t accept classified ads without advance payment except in the case of lost pets (those are free), but the advertiser requested and we accepted the ad for publication.

Unlike our letters policy, which requires that the writers of all letters to the editor be verified, we make exceptions for ads, especially classified ads, which are the least costly type of ad in the paper. But as of right now, the policy has changed. Why? Read on.

The “free puppies” went into print a couple of weeks ago. We know of one person who read the ad in The Columbia Paper and responded by email to the offer of a golden retriever… free. To protect that person’s privacy we’ll call her the “Hillsdale Resident.”

The Hillsdale Resident emailed “Stacey McClelland,” the name embedded in the email address of the woman who said she owned the supposed puppies. The resident named all the dogs she had owned and other details of her life.

Stacey responded online, saying that she lives in Saratoga Springs but, “presently transferred for a missionary work to Saskatchewan, Canada with my family for a missionary missions (sic) to work with orphans. So I took both puppies along with me since i couldn’t find someone earlier to adopt them before leaving out of United States because it would be too hard on them not to make the move with us or to leave them behind alone, and later realize that the weather here in this province of Saskatchewan, Canada is very horrendous for the puppies….” and possibly for bored teenagers, too.

At about this point in the exchange the Hillsdale Resident said realized that this was scam and cut off contact, but not before Stacey told the resident it would require $100 each to cover “shipping cost… to United States to any Cities and location in United States.”

Internet scams are almost as old as the internet itself and it would be a relief all of them were so transparent and the costs to innocent targets so modest. But just opposite is true. Too often they’re run by criminal enterprises or political operations (or both).

It’s not technology that gives these “phishing” scams, called phishing, their opportunity either. It’s our willingness to trust the promise of wealth or other rewards dangled before us if only we’ll pay what the phisher demands.

We’ll try to remove suspicious ads but use this case as a warning that things aren’t what they appear to be in the scammer universe. If it doesn’t smell right leave it alone.

If you want a dog call the Columbia-Greene Humane Society 518-828-6044. If you want to know about dog breeds visit the American Kennel Club at https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/spot-puppy-scam/

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