How You Can Protect Yourself
Con artists and scammers alike pose a very real threat to your financial security. With access to the internet and a few keystrokes, it’s possible for almost anyone to learn at least some basic details about complete strangers. If they can use this information to manipulate you into revealing more specifics, it can potentially leave you vulnerable to identity theft, credit fraud and a host of financial difficulties that can take months or years to recover from once you’re aware of what has happened. And while some schemes that have made the rounds for years might be more easily identified and rebuffed, the criminals who are out to steal your personal information and/or money have adapted their cons accordingly. Even the most intelligent people can fall victim to these predators, as this is their “profession” and they can be very good at what they do. Whether you’re a senior or a millennial, there’s a scam that’s been tailor-made for you.
While there is no end to the creativity of scam artists, here are some of the more commonly used threats you should be on guard for:
- PARTIAL INFORMATION. Be aware that some scammers may already have some of your information. For example, they may know the last 4 digits of your social security number and find a way to use that as leverage to obtain more personal information.
- TAX SCAMS. Thieves posing as IRS employees are making phone calls to potential victims explaining that back taxes are due. They are creating a sense of urgency and looking for payment quickly. Some are also threatening to suspend or cancel Social Security numbers, if payment is not made immediately. A second tax scam threatens liens or levies for unpaid taxes and references the “Bureau of Tax Enforcement” which does not exist. The IRS will send written correspondence about any taxes owed and you should independently confirm any amounts due.
- FREE VACATION/PRIZES/SWEEPSTAKES. The scammer calls with great news that you have won a vacation/prize/sweepstakes. The scammer is looking for either personal information or money.
- MEDICAL ALERT SCAMS. Many scammers target seniors. One of these scams is to offer free medical alert systems or discounted prescription related scams. Please verify this is legitimate before you give your personal information.
- WARRANT THREATS. Phone scammers are even making calls threatening that you will be arrested or possibly another family member will be arrested if you don’t comply. They claim to be the Sherriff’s office or the DEA, or even the FBI. They are looking for money to pay the fine quickly and avoid arrest.
- GRANDCHILD IN NEED. Scammers are not all adult males, as some stereotypically think. Some scams involve children or young adults calling seniors, pretending to be a grandchild who is in a tough situation and needs cash quickly. The story changes and can be “I was arrested,” or “I was in a car accident,” or similar and usually includes, “Don’t tell Mom or Dad,” and “Send money quickly!”
- LOAN SCAMS. The caller is offering you money (such as a small business loan, auto loan or payday loan) but is really asking you for information. A variation is the student loan scam. A caller promises they can wipe out or significantly reduce student loan debt through a “special” program, which usually has a very official-sounding title, and requires pre-payment of an application fee. Or, you may get a call from the “financial aid department” praising your child’s performance in college and offering you the opportunity to lower their current loan debt and future tuition costs. But they’ll need to confirm some of your information first.
- DEBT COLLECTOR SCAM. Thieves posing as employees of a debt collection agency ask for copies or written notice of your debts. Be careful not to give out personal information.
- PAYMENT BY GIFT CARD OR RELOADABLE PREPAID DEBIT CARDS. Scammers for several years now have been asking for payment by gift cards or reloadable prepaid debit cards.These cards provide a quick, convenient and untraceable way for crooks to get money from their victims. You might receive a call from someone stating they are from your utility company and that they will be disconnecting your power within the hour because you owe them money. They will pressure you that unless you make a payment to them over the phone with a prepaid card, they will have no choice but to disconnect you and it might take a long time before you get your power back, even if it was a “billing error.” Legitimate businesses and the government do not request/demand payment by these methods, but in the heat of the call, when anxiety is high, these scammers are hoping that we are not thinking clearly and will give them the money they are requesting.
- DON’T BELIEVE YOUR CALLER ID. Technology now makes it easy for scammers to create fake caller ID information so the name and number you see may not always be real.
How to Protect Yourself
It can be very unsettling to receive any of these calls. It’s one thing to open your email, take your time to read something unfamiliar, and ultimately decide that it seems suspicious. It’s entirely different when you have a real person on the line who is either pressuring, threatening or alternately sounding as if they are earnestly in need of your help, or are trying to help you avoid a terrible situation. Con artists will adapt their scam on the spot and seemingly have an answer for every logical concern you may have. They are meant to be VERY convincing and the urgency they attempt to leverage you with will feel real.
You are your own best advocate. Know that scammers are out there and listen to your instincts. Don’t share your information or give money. Many times, the easiest way to end a telephone scam is to simply hang up the phone.
If you feel that you have been targeted or fallen prey to a con, you should monitor your credit profile as well as your bank and investment accounts to watch for any suspicious or unauthorized activity. You may wish to add no-funds-out restrictions to certain accounts or even change your account numbers. You can also file a report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov to hopefully prevent someone else from becoming a victim. Please give us a call if you have any questions or concerns.
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