Showing posts with label how to avoid being a victim of a scam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to avoid being a victim of a scam. Show all posts

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 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 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:

Sign up for Identity Theft protection. Good examples are NortonLifeLock, and  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, and  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 and  They look for red flags and send you an alert if they find unusual transactions.

Check out potential caregivers before you hire them at, or

Have your emails encrypted using or

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.

You can find gifts for retirees and others at my Etsy Store, DeborahDianGifts:

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If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, common medical issues after retirement and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the to of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful retirement articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Why Scammers Use Gift Cards to Steal Your Money

We have all received a wide variety of scam phone calls, and most of them end with demands for immediate payment, often using what may seem to most of us as strange ways to send money. With so many of us spending our days at home right now, we are likely to receive even more of these calls.  If we are lonely and bored, we may even be tempted to engage in a conversation with the strangers who call our home.  This is a terribly bad idea!

Some of these callers will claim you owe money to the IRS, or you missed your jury duty and if you do not pay a fine, you will be arrested.  Other callers pretend to be your grandchild or another relative, crying hysterically that they are in a desperate situation and need you to send money for bail or some other need. They may even claim to have been kidnapped.

The call may come from a salesperson who offers to sell you a home coronavirus test kit or, even worse, a fake cure for the disease.

The request for money may seem polite or even humble, and come from someone you have met on a dating site or somewhere else on the internet, pleading that they have had an unexpected emergency and need to "borrow" some money until they get things straightened out. 

What all of these callers may have in common is they often suggest that the fastest way to send them money is for you to purchase a gift card at a local convenience store and read them the numbers from the back of the card.  They usually do not want you to mail them a personal check.  They want gift cards.

If you ever get a request from anyone asking for gift cards they can use to cover their bail or to pay a bill, hang up and report the phone number to the police.  No legitimate government agency, salesman, friend or relative will insist the only way you can pay a bill or help them financially is by reading them the numbers off the back of gift cards. 

You need to know that gift card numbers are the preferred method of payment for scammers, and too many senior citizens fall for these smooth talking criminals every day.

How Scammers use Gift Cards

What the scammers do with gift cards is actually quite ingenious.  They will ask you to go to a convenience store or a business such as Target or WalMart and purchase a large denomination gift card or two.  After you purchase the cards, they want you to call them back and read them the code numbers or PINs on the back of the cards.  They nearly always try to rush you to get this done, by threatening that you will be arrested, or something awful will happen to a loved one, if you do not meet a specific deadline.

Why gift cards?  Scammers ask for them because they are nearly as untraceable as cash and are easily transferred over the phone, which makes it very easy for them to cash, take the money, and disappear.

How Scammers "Launder" the Money on the Gift Card

Within minutes of giving the numbers to a scammer, they will pass the number to a "washer" who uses the gift card number to purchase other gift cards, with smaller denominations, in a store.  For example, if you have been told to purchase two $500 WalMart gift cards, and you read the numbers on the back to the scammers, they will pass the numbers to someone who will immediately use those numbers in a WalMart to purchase several gift cards for other stores, such as Best Buy, ranging in value from $50 to $250.  In less than an hour, your original gift cards have been used.  The "washer" gets to keep two to five percent of the value of the cards. 

Then, the codes for the new gift cards are resold online at a discount.  For example, there are sites where you can purchase a $100 Best Buy gift card for $90 or less.  By the time the scammers have destroyed the gift cards they purchased with the numbers you gave them, and resold those new gift card codes online, the money is completely untraceable.  There is almost no chance you will ever be able to get your money back.

The scammer may even skip the washer and specify that you purchase gift cards for iTunes, Google Play, Best Buy or other stores.  Then, as soon as you give them the numbers, they will immediately list them for sale at a discount.  The cards didn't cost them anything, so they do not mind selling them for far less than face value.  Before you know it, the scammer, the cards and your money are all gone.

How to Prevent This Type of Crime

The good news is that stores are starting to become aware of these types of crimes and they are questioning people who come into their stores and purchase large denomination gift cards.  Some stores will no longer let people use gift card codes to purchase other gift cards.  Businesses and police departments are working together to reduce these crimes, but they need the public to stop making things easy for the scammers.

Consumers can help prevent these crimes in several ways:

First, educate yourself about these scams and how they work.  You need to know that gift cards cannot legally be used to pay for bail, taxes or court fees.  There is no reason you should ever need to rush to a store to get gift cards, especially if you have been financially threatened by a stranger on the phone, or because you believe you are "rescuing" someone.

You may want to learn more about this and other scams by reading the AARP book, "Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons."

Second, think twice about purchasing discount gift cards on the internet.  While many of them are being sold by legitimate people who have been given gift cards they really do not want, when you purchase cards from these sites you could also be inadvertently helping someone who is in the process of committing a crime.

This is unlikely to be the last way scammers will try to get money from you.  When gift cards stop working as a payment method for their scams, they will try other things.  Scammers used to ask people to wire money into foreign bank accounts, but when banks began to train their tellers to question their customers who were making a large transfer to a foreign bank account, we began to see less of this.  That is when the gift card scams became more popular.

Whenever a stranger calls, be skeptical and do not hesitate to hang up.  Legitimate government agencies will contact you by mail, if they need to. They will rarely call you and, when they do, they will never ask for immediate payment over the phone.  In particular, they will not ask you to pay them with gift cards.  If you are unsure if a grandchild or relative really needs your help, always try calling them or other family members directly to confirm what is going on.  Finally, if someone you meet online asks for money, regardless of how nice and polite they seem to be, ignore the request.  This is especially true of dating sites on which one person may be scamming multiple lonely people at the same time.  Keep reminding yourself that people who are asking you for money may be lying to you, and you should either turn them down or seek legal advice.

If you would like more helpful information for retirees on financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, common medical issues as we age, or where to retire, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Disclosure: This blog may contain affiliate links. If you decide to make a purchase from an Amazon ad, I'll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Why Scammers Call You - Are You an Easy Mark?

If you are like most Americans, you receive frequent robocalls, personal calls and emails from potential scammers. The frequency of these calls may seem overwhelming. Some of them may even be initiated by seemingly trustworthy people.  For example, when you make a purchase or investment, you may occasionally encounter sales people who cross the line from offering legitimate sales assistance to suggesting deals which are outright fraud. At times, it may seem as if you are constantly under assault by criminals and you need to be suspicious of everyone.  You could be right.  You may have unintentionally become an easy mark for scammers.

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. 

For more information of financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, common medical issues as you age and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

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