Friday, July 23, 2021

Protect Yourself from New Scams and Old Ones, Too!

People around the world are losing millions of dollars a year to scammers.  Many of these scammers live in poor countries, such as India, where unemployment is high, especially for young adults.  It is easy for them to get pulled into working for "boiler rooms" where they use auto-dialers to call thousands of vulnerable people in the United States and other countries every day, attempting to convince them to send money to the scammers.  They are willing to use a wide variety of different approaches, which makes it almost impossible to list them all.  

The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself before you lose money to them, and we will describe some of the best ways to stay safe from them.  The bad news is that once you have wired those funds or provided gift card numbers to the scammers, it will be almost impossible to get your money back.  Obviously, you want to learn how to protect yourself before it is too late.

Common Phone and Email Scams - Don't believe these callers!

You missed jury duty and owe a fine 

Your Social Security number was used in a crime

The police are going to arrest you if you do not pay a fine right now

Your grandchild or family member has been kidnapped and you must pay a ransom

Your family member has been arrested and needs bail money

You missed a Zoom meeting and need to click on a link to restore your account

You won a contest, and just need to send in a processing fee

Apply for a job at an unknown company

Your computer supposedly has a virus, with bold alerts lighting up your screen, and a caller, or the person sending the message to you, offers to "fix your computer" for you

A brand-name product is for sale on Facebook or another online site at a "too good to be true" price

Someone is romantically interested in you, but needs money to visit or to help a sick relative

You are entitled to a Medicare service, but you need to give out your Medicare number to get it

A person or company "accidentally" deposited money in one of your accounts, and needs you to return it.

There is a problem with your credit card and you need to click on a link to verify your information.

ALL of the above approaches are actually common scams.  Sadly, people in the United States, Canada and Europe fall for them often, and frequently send money to the scammers.  Too often, they only realize they have been scammed when it is too late.  Don't click on links in unsolicited emails.  This is the first step in avoiding these scams.

The Job Search Scam

While looking for a job on the internet, you may see ads which list wonderful sounding jobs at fabulous salaries, but they do not mention the name of the company.  PROCEED WITH CAUTION.  This may simply be an attempt to steal your identity.  

If an unknown company asks you to fill out an application, including giving them your full name, date of birth, address, Social Security number, driver's license number and similar information, DO NOT DO IT. 

You should only go directly to the website of companies you know to apply for a job, and fill in their online application.  Do not fill in an application for a job if you do not the name of the company that is asking you for your personal information.  You also need to make sure you check the URL of the company, so you are certain you are on the correct website, and not on a fake website that seems similar.  You will probably never hear from the fake company, but they will then have all the information they need to do things such as file a fake tax return form in your name, apply for unemployment insurance benefits in your name, get credit cards in your name, and commit similar crimes.  Everyone, including teenagers and senior citizens, should check on their credit reports once or twice a year to make sure their personal information is not being misused by someone else.  

A Common Scam Story

Here is a true story from someone who lives in my retirement community:

 "I got a phone call from someone who said he was my grandson, saying he was in a car accident, the airbag went off in his face, broke his nose (which is why he was hard to understand), and he had seven stitches.  He said he hit another car and the other driver is in critical condition and my grandson could be tried for manslaughter. He gave me his booking number and told me to call his 'lawyer' who would tell me what to do.  I called the 'lawyer' who told me how to wire money to get my grandson out of jail. I went to the bank with my husband and we wired $6000 to these people, and then found out it was a scam.  My grandson is fine, but it was a traumatic experience, and we lost $6000." 

Do NOT fall for any of the con artists who are trying to steal money from you.  They are very good and very convincing. They often work in teams.  They have a variety of phone numbers for you to call, so you can speak to fake lawyers, doctors, or anyone else they may need to use in order to convince you to send them money.  If someone ever tells you they are calling from a hospital or courthouse and say they need money from you, look up the phone numbers of those places yourself and place calls to confirm that your family member is actually there, and in trouble. Also, contact other members of your family for confirmation. Do your research before sending money to a stranger, even one who sounds legitimate.  

Payment Methods are the First Clue to Fraud

One indication that you are about to be the victim of fraud is when they ask you to use an unusual method of payment, they want the payment immediately, and they discourage you from contacting anyone about the money transfer. They also usually decline to accept a check or credit card as payment.  That is an immediate red flag that it is a scam. Legitimate companies accept credit cards and many also accept checks. The scammer wants to be paid in a way which cannot be traced and which cannot be cancelled.  Some of the payment methods scammers prefer are:

Retail gift cards which they can quickly redeem for other gift cards

Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies

Cash - often with instructions to wrap it in tinfoil and mail it overnight

Phone apps like Venmo, Zelle and Cash App

Wire transfers like MoneyGram or Western Union

Once the scammer has received their funds using one of the above methods, it is nearly always gone within minutes, and the victim cannot get a refund.  The scammer will frequently give the victim detailed instructions such as instructing you to tell store clerks and bank tellers that you are sending the money, wire transfer, or gift cards to a sick relative.  As soon as you are told to keep what you are doing a secret, or to lie about what is going on, it is a scam. No legitimate business would ask you to do that.

How to Protect Yourself from Scams

DO NOT answer phone calls from unknown callers. Let them go to voicemail and then listen to the message and decide if you need to respond.  

DO NOT call strangers back. If they say they are calling from your bank or a company you use, look up the number and go directly to the company.

DO NOT respond to emails or text messages which are unsolicited. Just have those types of messages go to your spam file. If you happen to open one by accident, DO NOT click on any links in the email or text.  If a legitimate company emails you, go directly to their website to verify the information.  Do not click on a link in the email.  Personally, I have received several emails supposedly from PayPal which claim my account will be closed and I need to click on this link.  However, when I go directly to PayPal, there is no problem with my account.  Be skeptical of any emails or messages which indicate a problem with any of your accounts, whether it appears to be from your bank, credit card, Amazon, or a subscription service, such as Netflix.

DELETE suspicious emails and close pop-up ads.

Whenever you do happen to answer a phone call with a stranger, ask them to send their offer to you in writing and then hang up.  However, your best option is to not answer the call, if possible.

Hang up the phone anytime you get a robocall. Ignore ALL recorded messages, unless it is simply an alert from your local government. Those should be clearly identified on your Caller ID as a RED ALERT or something similar.  Any other recorded message can usually be ignored.

Hang up on phone calls claiming to be from "police charities," Social Security, jury duty bailiffs, the IRS, cold calls from investment companies, sales people, and others whom you do not know and have not contacted first.  In particular, government agencies do not call people without contacting them first by letter.

DO NOT allow anyone to remotely access your computer or download software to your computer, unless you know you are definitely dealing with a reputable source and it is someone you contacted, not someone who unexpectedly contacted you to help you "solve" a computer problem. 

BE SUSPICIOUS of any contact you receive from anyone who is not a friend, family member, or a business or organization you expect to contact you.  You should even be suspicious of relatives who have unusual requests or who ask to be co-signers on your accounts. Do not take on responsibility for someone else's loans or debts.  Co-signing a loan makes you fully responsible if the relative fails to pay. 

EDUCATE yourself. Sign up for AARP, which publishes new information on the latest scams nearly every month.  In addition, read a helpful book such as "Scam-Proof Your Assets." (Ad) It will help you learn how to protect yourself from the latest scams and protect your financial accounts. 

Free Services to Help Protect You

If you want to make sure you are getting all your mail, sign up for the free mail notification service from the U.S. Postal service at InformedDelivery.usps.com. They will email you images of your mail every day and, if some of it is missing, you will know very quickly. It will also make it easier to trace packages and registered mail.  I love the service and used it once to trace a missing shipment of prescription medications.

When you receive unwanted calls on your cell phone, block them immediately. I used to get daily phone calls offering me a free vacation.  Each time, I blocked the number.  Eventually, they must have run out of numbers, because I have not received the calls for over a year. Keep blocking the callers until they run out of numbers or give up. 

Go to DoNotCall.gov and list your phone number.  That will stop some calls, but not all of them.

Call your service provider and see if you can get a free call screening or call-blocking option.

Paid Services to Help Protect You

Subscribe to a service like Elefend. It will automatically join your calls and alert you if the caller uses key words which are often used by scammers.  I wrote another post which will explain more about Elefend.  You will find it at:  

https://www.baby-boomer-retirement.com/2020/10/elefend-defends-against-scam-phone.html

Sign up for Identity Theft protection. Good examples are NortonLifeLock, EverSafe.com and IDSheild.com.  They will alert you if they see suspicious activity on your Social Security number, bank accounts or credit cards.

Set up notifications on your credit cards and bank accounts, so you are immediately notified of each transaction.  Make sure you recognize all the transactions on your accounts and contact the banks if you see suspicious activity.  

Check the photos of people who contact you online.  Often that potential "romantic partner" is totally fake. Recently, a woman in India filed a lawsuit against Prince Harry claiming that he promised to marry her. Someone claiming to be Prince Harry had sent her Prince Harry's photo.  Sadly, similar incidents happen all the time.  You can use reverse image search tools on sites such as images.Google.com, TinEye.com and Yandex.com.  If you see the same photo being used with multiple names, you know it is not a real person, whether you met them on a dating site, Words with Friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some other online site.

Find more ways to identify and protect yourself from getting entangled romantically with con artists by reading "Con Artist Dating: Your Judgment Free Guide to Preventing and Recovering from Relationship Scams." (Ad)  Many people have found the book quite helpful when being contacted online by new "friends" or romantic prospects. 

Either you or your older family members might benefit by having all financial accounts monitored for unusual transactions using services such as GuideChange.com and EverSafe.com.  They look for red flags and send you an alert if they find unusual transactions.

Check out potential caregivers before you hire them at GoodHire.com, Checkr.com or IntelliCorp.net.

Have your emails encrypted using Tutanota.com or Mailfence.com.

Most people will not use all the options listed in this article and, of course, your first line of defense is one your parents told you when you were a young child:  DON'T TALK TO STRANGERS.  Those wise words may not protect you from all scams, but they will protect you from many of them.

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1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately there are so many scams. My favorite is when they tell me the service agreement has run out on my "vehicle". Their return address is "Vehicle Service Management Group" or something similar. And they never mention or identify the make of my vehicle. It's crazy.

    ReplyDelete

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