Why you? What is it about you that makes you especially vulnerable to being duped by dishonest people? You may be surprised to know that the AARP Fraud Watch Network has done research on why certain people are targeted more easily and what personality traits they possess. Once you understand your flaws, it will be easier for you to protect yourself. Below are common weaknesses which make you more likely to become a fraud victim.
You May Respect Authority Figures Too Much
Some scammers try the approach of sending out official looking letters and emails, or they may call you and pretend to be officials with a government agency, such as the IRS, the police, Social Security or a court. People should recognize that government agencies rarely call citizens, and almost never make a phone call as their first approach in dealing with a citizen. They nearly always contact you first by mail.
In addition, if you are dealing with an agency such as the IRS, because of an issue such as unpaid taxes, they will never demand that you make an immediate payment. Whenever you do make a payment, there are specific steps you must follow and only certain types of payments are allowed. They NEVER accept gift cards or similar methods of payment. Let me repeat that. If someone contacts you and says that you owe back taxes, a fee or a fine, no legitimate government agency will say that you must pay them immediately by using gift cards. That should be your first red flag that something is very wrong.
If someone calls you and says they are from a government agency, tell them you only handle these transactions by mail and hang up. When and if you do get an official looking letter, you should call the relevant agency using their official phone number listed on their website, NOT one which was given to you by a strange caller. Be skeptical of any stranger who calls you unexpectedly, even if they say they are from a government agency. If you have questions, call your local sheriff's department for guidance.
You Could be Too Trusting and a People Pleaser
There are many disadvantages of trying too hard to please other people, including the fact that it can simply be exhausting. However, another disadvantage is that people pleasers tend to put their own judgement aside in order to follow the instructions of others. For example, you may receive an email from someone pretending to be a friend or coworker. They may give you unusual instructions, such as asking you to purchase gift cards, take photos of the front and back, and email the photos to them. A more skeptical person might question why they would want you to do this. However, believe it or not, people regularly fall for this scam. By the time the victim realizes the person sending the email is not who they are pretending to be, the scammer has already used the photos you sent to purchase something with the gift cards. Even when you think someone you know is asking you to photograph gift cards, don't do it. There is a good chance it is a scam.
You May be Lonely and Seeking Friends Online
Scammers love lonely people. The perfect mark is someone who willingly enters into a lengthy conversation over the phone with the scammer. It doesn't take a lot of time to convince a lonely person that the stranger on the phone wants to be their friend.
An even more dangerous person could be someone you meet through social media or a dating website. Thousands of lonely men and women have developed online relationships with strangers, "loaned" them money, "invested" in various schemes and otherwise been reeled in. Some people have even lost thousands of dollars this way. Below are some rules you should follow to protect yourself.
Never send money to someone you have met online, either through social media or a dating site.
Never invest in business deals with strangers, even if you have been conversing with them online for months. Many of these scammers go for the "long game" and are willing to spend months emailing a large number of people until they find someone who will send them money.
Don't let loneliness cause you to become a victim.
You Could be Under Stress or Grieving and More Vulnerable
Be wary of phone calls from strangers, especially after a crisis, including a death in the family, a home fire, a flood or other disaster. There are crooks who try to trick people into giving out their personal information during times of stress. They may pretend to offer help, when they are really trying to steal any insurance or settlement money you could be receiving. If you are feeling overwhelmed and get a phone call from someone who is offering to help, you may be tempted to lower your guard and tell them things such as your Social Security or bank account numbers, because you believe it is necessary in order to get federal aid or other assistance. Be particularly suspicious whenever you are under stress. Take your time, meet personally with the people from FEMA or the insurance company, do online research and gather information until you know exactly what you need to do.
You May Have Been a Scam Victim in the Past, Making You a "Mark"
Did you know that people who have been victimized once are even more likely to be victimized again? Once scammers know your weaknesses, they will actually sell your name to other scammers who will try new and different approaches to get their hands on your money. Once you have been a victim of fraud, be extra careful for the rest of your life.
You Could Be Too Confident that You Will Not Be Scammed
After reading articles such as this one, you may be absolutely confident that you would never fall for any of these tricks. Do not get over-confident. Many of the people who fall victim to fraud are intelligent, confident, well-read people who believe they know "all the tricks in the book." However, the people who conceive of these scams are also intelligent and they put all their energy into thinking of new, creative ways to trick people. They know how to come across in different ways, depending on the scam. They might appear to be professional and businesslike, or caring and helpful. They are able to be whoever they need to be. They consider this their profession, not a hobby. Be skeptical of anyone who approaches you for money.
Learn How to Protect Yourself from Scams
Without getting over-confident, pay attention to new scams in your area and learn how to protect yourself.
If you receive a call from a telemarketer or a robocall, hang up immediately. Never give out information over the phone. Never call back. You could be calling a number that will charge you when you place the call.
Block the phone numbers of telemarketers so they cannot keep calling you using the same number.
Even if you have to block dozens of numbers, do not give up. Telemarketing companies have a variety of numbers they can use, but eventually they will run out if you keep blocking them.
Immediately end online conversations with people who ask for money, no matter how convincing they are. This applies to people who contact you through email, Facebook, Twitter or dating sites. If they ask for money, no matter how convincing their story, do not send it to them. If you do it once, they will probably keep asking.
If you believe the request could be from a legitimate company, such as a local charity, ask them to mail their request to you. That will give you more time to check them out and think about your decision to make a donation. If they begin to call repeatedly, hang up and block their number.
If you receive a call from a government agency, look up the number for that agency online and call them directly. Ask that they put any questions or requests for information in writing and mail it to you. Consult the police or an attorney if they harass you, especially if you are suspicious about why they have contacted you.
Do NOT cash unexpected checks or prize money you receive in the mail. Check with your local sheriff's department, district attorney's office, or your bank to see if it is legitimate. NEVER mail money back to the person or company that sent you the check. A common scam is to tell you that you have won money, then they send you a check for more than you supposedly won, and they ask you to mail them back the difference. By the time you discover that their phony check has bounced, you have already sent them your real check and they have cashed it.
Always read the fine print before entering into any business deal. Consult an attorney to protect yourself as much as possible.
Be skeptical of any requests for money, no matter how sincere, even if it is put in the form of a "loan" or an "investment." Discuss real investments with legitimate advisors such as your lawyer, tax accountant, or financial planner. In addition, investigate possible investments online. There is plenty of information about both legitimate and dishonest business deals online, if people are just willing to do the research.
Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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