Showing posts with label how to protect yourself from scams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to protect yourself from scams. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Travel Scams to Avoid

One of the joys of retirement is the ability to travel whenever and wherever you want.  However, this freedom also exposes retirees to a wider variety of scams and fraud.  Anyone who is planning to travel during retirement needs to be aware of the most common types of travel scams.  We all need to learn how to minimize our risk and avoid becoming the victims of crooks, so we can truly enjoy our newly discovered freedom.

An article in the April, 2017 AARP Bulletin, titled "Vacationers are Easy Prey for Scammers," explained some of the types of scams which are common and could easily ruin the best planned vacation.  Below is a brief summary of these scams.

Hotel Scams

According to the article, hotels are full of scammers who are lurking around the lobby watching for potential victims.  One of their common tricks is to call your room after you check in, pretending to be the front desk, and ask you to repeat your credit card number and security code number over the phone.  They claim the clerk at the desk wrote it down wrong when you checked in. This is more likely to happen in small or boutique hotels, often in other countries. Do not fall for this trick.  In addition, be sure you use the room safe and interior deadbolt when you are in your room, and take advantage of any other security measures available at the hotel.  Be sure to look through the peep hole before opening the door.  If you are not expecting someone to be at your door and the person does not look like a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm they are supposed to be there.

The Good Samaritan Scam

In this scenario, someone steals your wallet and then calls your cell phone to tell you they found your wallet and will mail it to your home.  As a result, you do not cancel your credit cards.  However, while you believe you were fortunate that such a good person found your wallet, they are actually crooks who are using your cards, knowing you will not close the accounts because you think the wallet is being mailed back to you.  While there are good people who will return your property if they find it, you would be well-advised to close the credit card accounts, anyway.  This is a good reason to bring only a few credit cards with you on a trip.  You should also make a copy of your cards, including the contact numbers for the card companies.  Keep the copies in a safe place, separate from your wallet.  It will make it much easier to close the accounts if your wallet is missing.

The Phony House Rental or B&B

If you decide to avoid hotels and stay in a rental home or quaint bed and breakfast, make sure you use a legitimate agency and check them out thoroughly.  Call the Better Business Bureau in the U.S. or the local tourist bureau in a foreign country.  Just because the company has a fancy website with gorgeous pictures of beautiful accommodations does not mean the place actually exists.  You could send in your deposit or payment, only to discover that the place does is not real.

Keep Your Distance from Strangers

There are more ways that you could become a victim while on vacation (or even in your own neighborhood). The helpful stranger who offers to retrieve a dropped purse or clean up a spill, may actually be trying to pick your pocket or steal your wallet.  Friendly people standing near an ATM could be looking for an opportunity to watch you input your PIN and, later, steal your debit card.

Someone offering to use your camera or cell phone to take your picture could actually be trying to steal the item.  This last crime makes me particularly sad.  I live near Laguna Beach, where I walk frequently.  I often offer to take photos of tourists who are struggling to get a selfie with their family.  While most locals may be genuinely kind and helpful, it is smart to keep up your guard and not let your cell phone or camera out of your sight.

Unsolicited Emails from Strangers

There are crime groups which send out thousands of emails every day containing special "offers."  They may offer to provide low-cost accommodations, help in obtaining an international driver's license, or other assistance for someone planning a trip.  Always investigate every company you use, especially if you have not used them before.  Sometimes they will have names which sound similar to legitimate companies.  Be very skeptical of unsolicited offers, no matter how good they sound.  In fact, if the deal sounds too-good-to-be-true, it probably is.

Be Careful How You Pay When You Travel

Whenever you are traveling, the least risky way to pay for gas, food and accommodations is with a credit card.  If you pay with a debit card, the money will be taken directly and instantaneously from your bank.  This means it could be more difficult to get your money back if you have been scammed.  If you write a check, they could cash it before you realize you have been scammed.  Be suspicious of any place which does not accept credit cards.

Be Careful, But Have Fun!

If you are cautious and suspicious of strangers and unknown companies, you are more likely to be able to relax and enjoy your vacation.  Just because we Baby Boomers are getting a little older, it does not mean we are easily fooled.  We have the ability to protect ourselves from the crooks who would like to ruin our vacations.

If you would like more information about scams affecting senior citizens, where to retire in the U.S. and abroad, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

For an overview of retirement planning, watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which is being published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit:  Laguna Beach photo taken by author

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Protect Yourself from Fraud and Scams

Retirees are extremely likely to become the targets of scams or fraud.  As a result, we must be extraordinarily careful about our interactions with businesses and people who contact us by phone or on our computer. We are continually bombarded with phone calls and emails from dishonest people who try to trick us into turning over our personal information or money.  Many of these scammers are very persistent and deceptive.  Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between legitimate and fraudulent websites.  The only way to stop these scammers is to learn how to protect ourselves and then report the crooks who try to cheat us.

What are the Most Common Scams Against Seniors?

There are a number of ways in which scammers are able to cheat us.  They may call, pretending to be a grandchild in trouble, and beg for money.  They might win our confidence on an online dating site and ask us to "loan" them money to help them out.  They could impersonate an IRS agent and threaten us with jail if we do not immediately pay our back taxes, which they demand in the form of gift cards or other untraceable types of instant money.  Sometimes they ask for donations to official sounding charities.

Scammers can also trick us by sending fraudulent emails from sites which look similar to the official sites of our bank or credit card company.  They might download malware on our computer and lock us out, until we pay a ransom.

It seems as if the different ways scammers can attack us are endless and they are continually coming up with new approaches.  We have to continually be vigilant.

How to Protect Ourselves from Scammers

While there seems to be no limit to the variety and creativity of the scams which threaten your financial security and peace-of-mind, there are steps you can take to make yourself less vulnerable.

1.  Ask plenty of questions if a family member calls and asks for money.  No matter how much of an emergency it appears to be, make sure you are actually talking to your relative and not a complete stranger.  We have told our adult children and grandchildren not to get their feelings hurt if they ever call asking for money and we pepper them with questions.  We explained to them there are very aggressive scammers who pretend to be members of a family and beg for financial assistance ... often while "crying" so it is difficult to identify their voices.  As a result, we would need to ask numerous questions before sending anyone money.  These questions might include where they went to school, their best friend's name, or their address as a child.  We have also told our family members we would call them back on their cell phone and discuss the request with other family members, to make sure the request is legitimate.

2.  Be suspicious if an "authority figure" calls and demands money.  Whenever a stranger calls pretending to be an IRS agent, the manager of your bank, or an representative from your credit card company, do not provide them with information they should already have such as your credit card number, date of birth or full Social Security number.  If you are in doubt, hang up and call the company or business directly, using the official customer service phone number for your bank or credit card company. The IRS will never unexpectedly call you demanding an immediate payment.

3.  Do not send money to strangers you "meet" online.  No matter how compelling or sad their story is, there is no way for you to verify they are telling you the truth.  Be suspicious, even if they show you "evidence."  Many of these scammers work in groups and they are very good at vouching for each other or producing realistic looking documents.

4.  Be very slow to send money to anyone.  Just because someone else seems to be having an emergency, you do not have to rush to send them money.  Take your time.  Whenever you consider sending money to someone, even a relative, discuss the decision with other family members. If necessary, call the police or the U.S. State Department and ask for their help in confirming that the situation is legitimate, particularly if the "crisis" is occurring in another country.  

5.  Never click on links in emails which are sent by strangers.  You should only click on links in emails sent by friends if you are expecting the link.  Your friend's email service could have been hacked.  Email links can allow scammers to take over your computer remotely.  Once they do, they can find anything you may have on your computer ... banking information, contacts, photos, passwords, etc.  For example, I have told my friends that if they send me a joke or interesting story and I have to open a link to read it, I will not open the link unless I am expecting them to send me this information.  We can't be too careful.

6.  Be careful about what you say on social media.  Make sure your Facebook posts have a privacy setting of "Friends only."  Do not reveal too much about yourself; especially do not give details about where you live and then announce when you are out-of-town.  Some people make it far too easy to be robbed.  In addition, be careful of the social media questionnaires which ask personal information about you such as your birth date, place of birth, maiden name, etc.  Combined with other information about you which is publicly available online, dishonest people can easily steal your identity.

7.  Make sure your computer is as safe from intruders as possible.  Although any computer can be hacked, some people make it far too easy.  Use both antivirus and anti-spyware software.  Keep your computer software updated.

8.  If you receive harassing phone calls, block the number.  No matter how lonely you may be, talking to strangers on the phone is not safe, no matter how old you are.  They may have done their research on you before making the call, including looking up your first name and the names of family members.  They may pretend to have met you and try to gain your confidence, before tricking you into making a "donation" to a worthwhile cause or asking for money for some other purpose.  Keep phone calls from solicitors, charities and other strangers short.  Hang up on them, if necessary.  We always tell phone solicitors that we do not conduct business over the phone, and then quickly end the call.  After the call, we block the number so they cannot keep calling back.

Finally, if you believe you have been cheated or tricked by a scammer, take the time to report the incident to the police.  If the scammer was pretending to be from the IRS, your bank or another business, notify the government agency or business involved so they can help you prevent this from happening to someone else.

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

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness, which is being published by Griffin Publishing and will be available in 2018.

You are reading from the blog:

Photo credit:  Photo property of author.