WHAT’S THE WORST TELEPHONE SCAM?

Lady On the Phone

You are sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee when the telephone rings. Almost by instinct, you answer it. The chances are high that it is not someone you know. More likely, this is some sort of telephone scam.

Telephone scams occur year around. Some originate from within the United States. Other calls are made from foreign countries. The callers are using computer generated lists of phone numbers to contact potential victims. They don’t know you or care about you. Their motive is to separate you from your money or personal information such as your credit card number or Social Security number.

In recent years, scammers have utilized phone calls to unsuspecting individuals to try to get access to personal computers. Their goal is to take over your computer so they can make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable. They may ask for your credit card number so they can bill you for phony services or things you could get elsewhere for free. They may try to trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data such as user names and passwords. These scams are described in detail in another article on this blog called “COMPUTER TECH SUPPORT SCAMS.”

Perhaps you have received a call from a man who tells you that your son has been arrested in Rockford and needs bail money. He wants you to send $500 to Rockford by Western Union. However, your son is sitting in your house watching television. Another scam!

There’s a scam called the Grandparent Scam. A con artist, pretending to be a grandchild of the victim, calls the grandparent. The “grandchild” says he desperately needs money or he’ll be evicted. He asks the grandparent to wire transfer money.

Have you ever received a phone call from someone who tells you that you have won one of five valuable prizes? The caller will put the shipping and handling charges on your credit card. All you have to do is give the caller your credit card number. Another phone scam! Never give your credit card number to a stranger who calls you.

Perhaps you have received a call offering you a “free” or “low cost” vacation. These “free” vacations may have hidden costs or may never take place, even after you have paid.

Be careful about calls for charitable causes such as urgent disaster relief. This is a common scam. If you want to donate, call a recognized organization such as the Red Cross.

Many times you will answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person. This is a robocall. Recorded messages that are trying to sell you something are illegal unless you have given the company permission to call you. Hang up! If you respond by pressing any number, you may get even more robocalls.

So, what’s the worst telephone scam? You decide. Avoid these and other phone scams by registering your home and cell phone numbers with the Do Not Call Registry online or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

—By Karen Centowski

SAVING THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Monarch Butterfly

Do you remember seeing the beautiful monarch butterflies with their orange and gold wings with veins of black? They used to be everywhere—in flower gardens, in country fields, in tall weeds along a country road. In recent years, their numbers have diminished. In fact, their survival is threatened by an unusual cause: the absence of milkweed plants.

When Illinois was first settled by Indians, much of the land was prairie. Milkweeds were abundant. A perennial plant, the milkweed plant grows each spring from its root as well as seeds. These were ideal conditions for the monarch butterflies whose larvae appear to feed almost exclusively on milkweeds.

In the 1800’s, European settlers brought their farming skills with them to the Midwest. The invention of the polished steel plow by John Deere in 1937 enabled the pioneers to cut clean furrows through the sticky Midwest prairie soil. The milkweed was considered a weed, not a valuable plant. It was relegated to the pastures or roadsides.

Monarch butterflies have been extensively studied by entomologists and biologists. They have determined that the monarch butterfly is dependent upon milkweed plants. The monarch butterfly deposits its eggs on the underside of leaves of the milkweed plant. After they hatch, the larva will feed upon the fine hairs on the leaves. The larva become caterpillars and then enter a pupa stage. They emerge as the beautiful adults we know as monarch butterflies.

According to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the population of monarch butterflies has dropped from 1 billion to less than 60 million over the past twenty years. This has been due mostly to the loss of critical habitat. The monarch butterflies depend on nectar-producing plants, and milkweed is the only food source for monarch caterpillars.

To address this issue, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation started the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund with an initial $1.2 million commitment from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Forest Preserve District of Kane County will receive $40,000 to create new prairie areas and to enhance others to attract and nurture monarch butterflies. The group will also work with private homeowners and land owners to create “monarch sanctuaries.” The State of Illinois has begun planting milkweed along the median strips of highways.

Each fall millions of monarch butterflies from the New England-Great Lakes area fly 3,000 miles to the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico to spend the winter there. The monarchs who spent their summer in the Rocky Mountains will fly to roosting sites as far north as Monterey, California.

To see a video, go to The Amazing Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AUeM8Mbalk.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are unable to access a video by using the link, type the name of the video into your search engine.

—By Karen Centowski

BE CREATIVE! MAKE A GIFT BASKET!

Basket Flowers

Do you have grandchildren who love surprises? Do you have a friend who just came home from the hospital? Is a relative having a birthday soon? Did your next door neighbor watch your house while you were on vacation? Is an old friend in a nursing home? Whose day would be brightened by receiving a gift basket?

If you have thought about ordering a gift basket online, you know they can be expensive. Some may be $29.99. Other gift baskets are $59.99 or more. Shipping may be extra. Instead of spending that much money, why not make a personalized gift basket for much less?

First, try to image what the recipient would really like. If you are making a gift basket for a grandchild, involve the child’s mother in this secret endeavor. Ask the child’s mother to name the child’s favorite snack foods. Does the child like peanuts, popcorn, granola bars, Wheat Thins, or Raisinets? What is the child’s favorite fruit?

If you are making the gift basket for an adult, consider using the person’s hobby or favorite sports team or foods as the theme of the basket. If the person loves anything made of paper, make a gift basket with stationery, an address book, cocktail napkins, and a book. If the individual loves wine, make a gift basket of wine and cheese and crackers. You get the idea.

Purchase the foods for your basket at your local grocery store or farmers market. By doing this, you will be sure the produce is fresh and reasonably priced. Buy that special bottle of wine from your local liquor store. The merchant will be happy to give you advice if you have difficulty choosing a wine.

Think outside the box about the “basket.” For Halloween, the basket could be a plastic jack-o-lantern trick or treating pail. For a Christmas fruit basket, use a large, red or green plastic basket or washtub. For Easter, use an Easter egg basket. Dollar Tree has a wide assortment of containers that could be used as gift baskets. Look at Goodwill or garage sales for wicker baskets or peck sized apple baskets. Even a packing crate or corrugated cardboard box can be a basket.

Dollar Tree is also a great place to buy rolls of clear or patterned cellophane and wide ribbon with wire at the edges. The rolls of cellophane are 30 inches wide by eight feet long. One roll is enough to wrap two baskets. The wide ribbon is 2.5 inches wide and nine feet long (three yards). One roll of ribbon is enough for three bows. Look for packages of shred (shredded paper) to serve as fill. For some gift baskets you’ll also need packing paper to fill the bottom of the container. Remember that everything at Dollar Tree is $1.00.

To assemble your gift basket, lay out all your items on a table. Place several sheets of wadded up packing paper in the bottom of the container. Cover this with shred. If you prefer, you may omit the packing paper and fill the bottom of the container with shred. Then arrange your gift items in the container. In a fruit basket, put the heaviest fruit such as apples and oranges on the bottom. Pile the fragile fruit such as bananas and grapes on the very top.

Cut a long piece of cellophane or shrink wrap to use as the gift wrap. Set the basket in the middle. Gather up both sides and the front and back. Squeeze the top together, and use twisty ties or a long piece of string or ribbon to hold the cellophane together. Tie the string or long ribbon in a knot to hold it secure. If you wish, you can use a scissors or pinking shears to trim off the edges of extra cellophane or shrink wrap. Then use the wide ribbon to make the bow.

If you prefer to use curly ribbon instead of wide ribbon for the bow, select four colors of curly ribbon. Measure the height of the basket plus the gathered cellophane. Add extra inches if you prefer. Cut seven ribbons of each color, and tie the strands in a knot around the gathered cellophane or shrink wrap. Turn the basket around, and tie the strands in a knot again. Then, using the flat blade of the scissors, curl the ribbon.

To see videos about how to make a gift basket, go to the following:

PLEASE NOTE: If you are unable to access a video by using the link, type the name of the video into your search engine.

—By Karen Centowski

COMPUTER TECH SUPPORT SCAMS

Get Me Out

Have you received a telephone call from a stranger claiming to be from Microsoft? The caller says that Microsoft has identified a problem with your computer. He wants to help you fix it. What should you do? HANG UP!

In the past few years, scammers have utilized phone calls to unsuspecting individuals to try to get access to personal computers. Their goal is to take over your computer so they can make changes to your settings that could leave your computer vulnerable. They may ask for your credit card number so they can bill you for phony services or things you could get elsewhere for free. They may try to trick you into installing malware that could steal sensitive data such as user names and passwords.

These scammers are persistent. Even if you tell them you are not interested and hang up immediately, the scammer or another person will call again and again and again. Sometimes they call twice in one day. Don’t try to reason with them. Don’t talk with then. Just hang up.

The Microsoft web site at https://microsoft.com clearly states their policy:

Remember, Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication Microsoft has with you must be initiated by you.

The Microsoft web site has a Safety and Security Center devoted to technical support scams. The following issues are addressed:

  • Telephone tech support scams: What you need to know
  • Scam Pop-Ups: What you need to know
  • How to report tech support scams
  • How to protect yourself from tech support scams
  • What to do if you already gave information to a tech support person
  • Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.

To see a video about this scam, go to ‘Microsoft tech support scam’ You Tube or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViWbc1yxJxl.