Protect Yourself from Cons
In grocery stores that offer Western Union services you might have seen a poster with a shadowy figure and the question: Do you know who you’re sending money to? It poses an important question and highlights the key to protecting yourself from the dangers of modern fraud: knowledge.
The Tech Support scam: A simple scam that may just be the largest scam currently in operation in the United States. It starts out seeming like a good thing as you receive a call claiming to be from Microsoft or some other company that informs you that a virus has been detected on your computer. Grateful you go to a special website that tells you viruses have been detected and are being removed while in truth malware is being installed on your machine that allows the conmen to see all your data including username, passwords, stored financial information or even take control of your webcam.
The Hint: Wait, you don’t remember signing up for a service like that. That’s because there isn’t one. Technology companies really don’t monitor your computer’s health like that and certainly don’t call you up unsolicited. When receiving a call like this you need to hang up. Don’t be polite and don’t give the conmen on the other end any chance to convince you of anything. Hang up with the knowledge that you probably just avoided a con.
Charity Rip Off: This con works by playing on your generosity towards charity causes and tricking you into giving it to them. While this may sound difficult all it really takes is a name that sounds vaguely familiar, a fake logo and a lie that you are a nonprofit. Remember that it is easy to say you are a charity, but easy to take the money and run. Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society all sound great don’t they, but all four have been busted as being defrauding fronts for scam artists.
The Hint: Sadly these are harder to spot at first glance. Many give themselves names that are very similar to major organizations in order to trick you. The key is to do some research before making any gifts. Don’t give to door to door collectors or provide your credit card information over the phone to someone who just solicited you. Instead take down the name and look them up on charitynavigator.org. Ask for brochures with more information and investigate the cause before you give. Be wary of popular online giving sites such as gofundme.com. While this may delay your gift a real nonprofit organization will understand why you need to look them up on charitynavigator.org and be grateful that you’re considering them so seriously.
The Silent Call: You receive a phone call and greet the person pleasantly, but no one talks back. The call ends quickly and you’re left confused, wondering if something is wrong or simply curious. There are two ways this can go: one you call back the unfamiliar number and end up on a conman’s list as someone who is curious enough to call back or you end up calling back a service that charges you for the call. There are other warnings associated with the one ring call that is silent on the other end and none of them pleasant.
The Hint: Why did you receive a call from a number like that? You don’t know anyone in that area code or from that community. When you receive a call like this ignore it. Don’t call back. If someone doesn’t leave a message for you and doesn’t speak when you answer the phone then they aren’t really wanting to talk with you. They are just trying to see if you’ll go for their lure. Don’t.
The IRS: Great Falls police have issued warnings that people calling claiming to be from the IRS are playing on your fears to steal your money. There are two IRS cons, and both try to lure you into giving information that you shouldn’t. Con artists may leave a message suggesting you owe back taxes and demand you to wire funds. Or, they may claim you have an unclaimed refund but require your personal information to process it. Recently these cons have become very professional with call centers and false employee numbers.
The Hint: Remember, if the IRS needs to contact you, it will always be through the US Postal Service. If you’re ever in doubt about an IRS matter, call the agency directly at 800-829-1040. To report an IRS scam, call the US Treasury inspector general for tax administration at 800-366-4484. Or if contacted by email, forward the message directly to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bank Emails and Call: You receive what looks like a completely normal and valid email from your bank or credit card company. It has the right logo and the email address it came from seems to be a match. All they want is for you to confirm some information for them so they can fix a problem in your online account or issue you a new card, but this is really a con artist collecting your banking information.
The Hint: Banks and credit card companies will not call or email you to confirm information they already have on record. Should you receive an email or a call from someone claiming to be a representative you need to end the call at once and do not respond to the email. If you’re ever unsure, simply call the number on the back of your card, never the number provided in the phone call or the email, and ask if they are trying to contact you.
The Grandparent Scam: Your grandkids are often a weak point, you love them completely, but you probably don’t know where they are all the time. This scam has a person calling you up and using some details of your grandchild’s lives in order to first convince you that it is then and then explain they are in some sort of trouble. They talk you into transferring money to help them with their problem. Common examples include: jail, medical issues, lost passports while traveling abroad or stolen credit cards and wallet. It is very easy to believe at first thanks to the details that the person may have, but keep in mind that in the age of social media it isn’t that difficult to learn some basic details about someone. These scams are also very organized and may provide you with a phone number to call to confirm details, but don’t trust anything that comes from them.
The Hint: The sad thing is that you have to make yourself stop before sending money no matter how desperate it may sound. Even if that supposed grandchild begged you not to tell their parents you need to call them and confirm that they were in Italy like they said. You need to ask another relative if they were in an accident and have they heard anything. Almost every time you’ll only get surprise and confusion from your other family members. That’s because you are the target of the scam and it was never real.
The Sweetheart Scam: This is a variation of the Grandparent Scam except that instead of using the name of someone you already love they are going to try and make themselves the object of your affection. Scams such as this have been around a long time and we’re all familiar with examples from literature, television or film. However, the internet and online dating sites have taken it all to a new level. Popular platforms for scam artists now include date websites such as BigChurch, ChristianMingle, and JDate in hopes that people will trust someone who seems to share their faith more easily. You start contact with someone and soon enough they profess to love to you and then need your help with some crisis that money will fix for them. Many such scammers will try to have contact outside of the site through other platforms as well to get around the protections of the website.
The Hint: Don’t let yourself be talked into chatting on another site, what’s wrong with the one you both signed up for after all. Check out this person who seems so interested in you. Try to look up their name, address and profile picture. Google and Spokeo.com are good tools to use in your fact finding mission. If no information can be found that is a huge red flag and you need to break off contact at once. Trust your gut, if you have a funny feeling about this person professing to love you after such a short span of time then you’re probably onto something.
Medical identity theft: This is a bit different than traditional identity theft, but can leave you on the hook for big medical costs. Unlike traditional identity theft where you can’t legally be held liable for fraudulent purchases with medical identity theft, you can be left liable for the costs of test, drugs and other services that you never used. Scammers collect your social security, Medicare of Health Insurance information in a number of ways including free clinics at malls or fitness clubs.
The Hint: At these so-called free clinics they want to see you Social Security, Medicare or health insurance numbers and may even want to copy them. Others want you to sign a blank medical insurance form. Don’t do it! Free clinics are supposed to be free so they don’t need to see any of that information and you shouldn’t be giving it to them.
Unsolicited Emails: You may love free offers and coupons to stores or popular restaurants, but if you start getting emails from them then you need to take a careful look. Scammers use coupon offer emails to get you attention and you have to click on a link to claim your prize. This triggers malware being installed on your computer or you are given a questionnaire to fill out so they can gather personal information.
The Hint: The key word is unsolicited. McDonalds or Subway don’t collect emails so how did they get yours? Never click a link in an unsolicited email or divulge personal information. There is no offer good enough to take the chance that you’re facing a scammer. When in doubt do a Google search with the gift card name and scam and see if any warnings come up. Most of the time they will.
The Shut Off: Imagine receiving a call from someone at your utility company informing you of overdue bills that will result in your power or heat being turned off. They tell you that they are sending someone to collect payment immediately and soon enough there’s a man pounding at your door. Using intimidation tactics these conmen might just get you to give them hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The Hint: Most utilities will mail at least one, if not several, past-due notifications before pulling the switch. If you’re in doubt call your utility company directly, don’t call back the number that called you and find out if there are any problems with your payments. Don’t open the door when someone comes to the door and call the police.
Things to Know:
Websites are cheap and easy to set up so even if someone directs you to a website that looks nice and official don’t necessarily trust it. Do a Google search and see what comes up. Once a con has been done with a name, phone number or website you can often find warnings about it.
Caller ID is easy to fool with the right software and conmen have that software. Even if the number that called you said something that sounds right don’t assume it’s real. Double check for an official phone number and contact that number instead of calling back.
You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter. You never have to pay fees to collect lottery winnings. And government agencies don’t make unsolicited phone calls or ask for personal information. They already have it all on file.
Review your accounts regularly to make sure that there are no unfamiliar transactions taking place. If you see something, no matter how small, that looks out of place contact your financial institution at once. Many times thieves take only small amounts multiple times a year to avoid sending up red flags.
You can regularly check your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to ensure that there are no fraudulent accounts in your name.
Seniors are major targets of identity theft and fraud. They are seen as vulnerable by scammers who assume that you are trusting and uncomfortable with technology. Double check things that seem too good to be true, don’t trust strangers and educate yourself about modern threats.