I’ve noticed for a while now that annoying calls are coming to both my home phone and my cell phone that look like local calls. Sometimes they even have the same exchange numbers as my phone (those first three numbers after the area code)–unusual because not even my other local friends have the same exchange numbers, so now I don’t even answer a number that looks too much like my own number. One day I also had a woman call and say she was returning a call that had come from my number–after I hung up I suspected she had been called by someone else faking my number, so I did a little internet research and found this page from the FTC about how scammers can fake caller ID info. If you’ve been getting calls that look a lot like your number, you are not alone. It’s a new scam and it’s dangerous for people who assume they are real local numbers and pick up expecting it to be a neighbor or local business or organization. The link has tips for handling these calls. Please share this info with friends and family who might be vulnerable to falling for scam calls.

Another thing you need to know is about a new scam where you get a call about an iCloud breach. I learned about this today when I got a call on my landline. The name said Apple Inc. and the phone number had my same area code. I answered out of curiosity and heard a recording telling me that my data was exposed in an iCloud breach and I needed to call a number (the number started with 833) or I could hold to talk to someone before I used any of my Apple products. (I don’t remember verbatim what was said, but that was the gist.) This annoying call came 5 times today (and left voicemails, which scam callers don’t always do) before I had the time to get on the phone company’s website and block the number. As soon as I heard the first call, I was skeptical (I mean, of course, that’s just how I am). So I got online and just googled “Apple iCloud phishing calls” and found this helpful article from MacWorld.  It explains that it is indeed just a scam and some tips for how you can tell it’s a fraud (some of the same things were red flags for me and some was just my skeptical instinct).

Texas flag grungeAs someone who has lived in Houston (and other parts of Texas) in the past, and who still has a lot of family and friends down there, this makes me absolutely sick and livid. For all the awfulness of this storm, why would people make up lies about it. The truth is weird and horrible enough without making shit up. I have already seen some on social media that made me go hmm, but these are confirmed–the first round of fake photos of Harvey in Texas.

More fake Harvey news spreading debunked by the Washington Post and more to be found here. And here’s another article about fake photos going around. Check before you share, folks!

Here are some real photos of the devastation in Texas. Here are some more real photos.

If your heart leads you to help rather than spread misinformation, here’s one way to help.

I am updating as I see more relevant articles or iffy photos.

Fake (or just very poorly done) political polls tend to be more of an issue during election time, but they are a problem all the time. Politicians even quote them to support whatever policies they are pushing, but just because a politician mentions a poll doesn’t make it a legitimate poll (and politicians really should be more careful since they generally have a staff that can help them ferret out if a poll is any good–at least if they are above the local level).

Here’s a helpful article from poll experts FiveThirtyEight.com about How to Avoid Falling for a Fake Poll.

I also highly recommend their politics podcast, linked here.

A lot of clichés are annoying and stupid, but sometimes a cliché is too true. For example,  if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.  This is 100% accurate on Facebook with giveaways. If a restaurant is giving away a coupon for one meal, worth $50 or something, then it is more likely to be valid than a restaurant saying you can get burgers for life if you share their post. Sometimes it’s all a matter of how fabulous the giveaway or how many people they’re claiming will win it. If it’s a fabulous trip to the Caribbean and they’re giving it to everyone who shares the post, then you really should be skeptical. If it’s a cute hat they’re giving away to the first five people who shares the post, then that’s more realistic. I see people sharing giveaways all the time and I can spot the scam ones pretty quickly because they are usually ridiculous. Sometimes it’s not so much that they’re ridiculous but that the Facebook page is not a valid page for the company doing the giveaway. I’ve seen people sharing a link from a page called United. (period included) that they thought was United Airlines giving away flights.  The real United Airlines is just “United” on Facebook (no period), and it includes the blue checkmark to show it’s a verified page. Click here to see Facebook’s explanation of verified pages.

Some people will say, “What’s the harm in sharing if I might win big?” Well, first of all, it really annoys people who know it’s nonsense, but I know that’s not a deal breaker if you think there’s a chance of winning. More importantly, the Facebook pages with these scam giveaways are nefarious and we shouldn’t be spreading them on principle. And most importantly, they might be trying to steal your information or spread malware. Those are serious things you don’t want to deal with for any remote chance you’ll actually win something huge (and you won’t win).

Here’s a link with more details about these spammy giveaways and why we should avoid them instead of spreading them (you can still share the nice little ones about winning hats or cowboy boots, if the companies are legit).