Don’t Be a Victim: Learn ‘what scammers don’t want you to know’

Ruth Johnson will be speaking about her experiences and how people can protect themselves from scams at a Kiwanis meeting Wednesday, June 15 at Harold’s Corral in Cave Creek. (David Minton/ Staff Photographer)

By Allison Brown

Scammers have tried to trap Ruth Johnson dozens of times, so many times that she learned their tricks. So, she created Scams and Me, a company through which she shares her personal experiences to help others avoid being scammed.

“I try to educate and protect the public with my public speaking presentations on what scammers don’t want you to know,” she says. “I’ve been working with scammers since 2013. I have multiple stories to tell, experiences with them, and I know exactly what they do.”

A Valley resident, Johnson will speak at the Kiwanis luncheon meeting at noon Wednesday, June 15, at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral. She will discuss her stories, current scams, what she has learned, and how others can protect themselves. It’s fair to say she has learned quite a bit, as she has worked with the Canadian Border Patrol, Canadian police, FBI and several U.S. police departments throughout her experiences.

Johnson says the first time she was scammed was in 2013, when she responded to an ad in a newspaper for a personal assistant. She got the job and says she immediately got an email from the employer that said he was in Iraq and needed help. Ultimately, the scammer wanted her to open a bank account for them.

Since then, Johnson says she has gone through 20 to 30 attempted — and a few successful — scams. They’ve tried LinkedIn, Facebook and dating sites. These weren’t phone calls about a car warranty or saving an Egyptian prince; these were actual people she got to know over the course of time who gained her trust.

“I am well educated, and people look at me like, ‘Why would you do something like that?’ But they build trust with you,” she explains. “It’s a mind-control thing where they can gaslight you. They become your friend and you trust them and then things come up. They make it sound like everyday occurrences, and you want to help them.”

The anonymity of social media makes it a breeding ground for potential scams. She recommends being careful about posting personal information online and to be wary of comments, messages or requests from anyone unfamiliar.

“I can even post a recipe on Facebook and all of these idiots comment saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got a wonderful smile. I’d like to get to know you.’ That is a scammer trying to work you, trying to get you started,” she says.

Even offline, she warns that scammers use technology to try to get information. According to Johnson, when people get calls where no one talks on the other end, a lot of times that is a scammer trying to connect to the phone number and use it.

Other tips include being wary of things like cryptocurrency and gift cards, too. With bitcoin, for example, a transaction can be traced, but not the wallet or who owns it. As for gift cards, Johnson says people can scan the barcode without buying the card and then have access to whatever money is loaded onto the card when bought in store.

These scams don’t just trick individuals either. Johnson says scams happen to businesses, banks, restaurants and companies, too. It happens all over, all the time, and she says if someone hasn’t been scammed yet, then they will be.

In fact, Johnson says if anyone needs convincing of how prevalent scams can be, just look at the numbers. The FBI reported $2.4 billion lost to scammers in 2021. She says it has become her passion to try to make a dent in that number so that others don’t have to go through what she did. Instead of getting caught up in being embarrassed about the scams or afraid of who still has her personal information, she is fighting back.

One way people can help prevent scams is by filing a police or FBI report if they have been scammed.

“The FBI has a cybercrime unit and each FBI location, including the one here in Phoenix, you can go on their websites and find the report called IC3,” Johnson says. “Do that report, and that way they can start tracking these people. If we don’t report it, they win.”

In addition to her public speaking presentations, Johnson is also in the process of writing a book about her experiences titled “Cyber Karma.”

Ruth Johnson Kiwanis Luncheon

Noon Wednesday, June 15

Harold’s Cave Creek Corral, 6895 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek