How to Protect Yourself From Scammers

According to the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, seniors lose an estimated 2.9 billion dollars a year to con artists perpetrating scams. But older Americans aren’t the only ones targeted and susceptible to scans. The percentage of millennials who are victims of scams is nearly double that of seniors. The Federal Trade Commission reported in 2018 that 40% of millennials surveyed ages 20-29 said they had lost money to fraud, as opposed to only 18% of seniors over the age of 69.

Scams run the gamut from shop-at-home and catalog sales to sweepstakes and lotteries, business and job opportunities, travel and timeshares, counterfeit checks, and telemarketing scams, to name a few.

It’s impossible to know every potential scam out there. So the most effective way to protect yourself from being victimized is to be aware of methods scammers employ. The following are a few common scams that target people of all age groups, and seniors in particular, and how to protect yourself.

INTERNET SCAMS

The pace of technological innovation is accelerating, bringing with it new ways of scamming people out of their hard-earned money. Seniors may be particularly susceptible because they weren’t born and raised around modern technology. But the ongoing onslaught of new strategies of scammers makes it difficult for people of any age to keep up with and be prepared for their gimmicks.

Generally, internet scams work by using email, popups, or fake websites to elicit money or information, such as login credentials, from the victim. For example, an email may appear to be from a legitimate source and ask you to respond with sensitive information or open a link directly from the text. But scammers have ways of making an email or website look legitimate to trick victims into entering sensitive information or passwords.

Pop-up ads can also be used to trick someone into thinking they have a computer virus. When you click the ad, you may get tricked into paying for fake antivirus software. Alternatively, you may get connected to a fake tech or computer expert who requests sensitive information to stop the purported virus.

How to Protect Yourself

  • When you receive an email requesting personal information, check the email address and research it to see if it’s legitimate.
  • Don’t respond directly to an email with sensitive information, even if it appears to be from a legitimate source. If you believe it may be a legitimate request from a known source, open a new email, and input an email address you know is legitimate. You can find this by checking your address book or the company’s website.
  • Don’t click links directly from an email or enter your login details or other information on the page that opens. If it’s from your bank or another familiar company, open a separate web page and go directly to the site yourself.
  • Use pop up blockers and legitimate antivirus software when you’re on the internet or computer and don’t click on popups.
  • Check with a younger, technologically savvy family member or friend before engaging in something online that seems suspicious.

TELEMARKETING SCAMS

Phone scams generally focus on offering victims a great opportunity or impersonating an official to get sensitive information.

A common telemarketing scam is when someone calls pretending to be from the IRS. The caller informs the victim they owe taxes and must pay immediately. Some scammers even threaten there’s a warrant out for the victim’s arrest, and the only way to avoid it is to pay up, often by wire transfer or in the form of a gift card. Some callers cite obscure taxes that don’t exist to alarm the victim.

Scammers also try to sell fake products or services over the phone. They use tactics like offering free trials that require your credit card information or limited-time offers to pressure you into a quick decision.

How to Protect Yourself

  • Know that most government agencies and legitimate businesses like banks won’t ask for sensitive information over the phone.
  • To verify who’s calling, hang up and call back the phone number that called you. If it seems legitimate, take an extra precaution. Find the contact number for the company or group online, then call it to ask if it was a valid communication.
  • Hang up or otherwise remove yourself from the situation. Con artists use many tactics to keep you on the phone or engaged. They often impart a sense of urgency or alarm to confuse their targets and increase the likelihood their target will fall for the scam.
  • If you don’t recognize a phone number, let it go to voicemail. Scammers may not leave a voicemail. If they do, you can search the number online to see if others have reported it.
  • Be aware that caller IDs and numbers displayed on your phone aren’t always accurate. Scammers can manipulate what shows up on your screen when you receive a call.

MEDICARE AND HEALTH INSURANCE SCAMS

Since all US citizens over 65 qualify for Medicare, scammers have an easier time taking advantage of this system. Con artists will pose as official representatives from Medicare or health insurance companies to attain the victim’s personal information. Then they use it to bill for services falsely.

How to Protect Yourself

Don’t give out any information to a Medicare or health insurance representative who contacts you. If you feel it may be legitimate, they should have no problem with you calling them back. Return the communication using an email or phone number that you know is legitimate.

ROMANTIC SCAMS

Scammers try to take advantage of people who are vulnerable because of their loneliness. Con artists use dating sites or social media to form an emotional connection and build trust with the target. Once established, con artists use the relationship to extract money from their victim for an ‘emergency’ or ‘travel expenses’ to come to visit.

How to Protect Yourself

  • Don’t send money to anyone you haven’t met and don’t know very well in person.
  • Be wary of entering a relationship with someone online or by phone, especially if it seems too good to be true.
  • Don’t hide any romantic relationships. Be open with friends or family, and be skeptical of anyone who wants to keep your relationship a secret.

SURPRISE WINNINGS SCAMS

Some fraudsters use compelling circumstances like winning a lottery or free vacation to lure potential victims. These scams are appealing because it feels good to win something. You’ll receive a call or notification that you’ve won a prize. To secure the award (that will never come), you need to pay a comparatively small amount of money or provide bank or identification information.

How to Protect Yourself

  • Be wary of an unusually great deal. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you didn’t enter a contest or haven’t heard of the opportunity you’ve allegedly lucked into, it’s likely a scam.
  • Don’t give any money or information to someone requesting it to secure your prize.

GENERAL TIPS ON DEALING WITH A POTENTIAL SCAM

  • Be aware when someone is using emotional appeal or emphasizing time sensitivity or another type of urgency. Giving you vague or ambiguous information or trying to get you to supply information is also a warning sign. These are common tactics to manipulate people into falling for a scam.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, for confirmation, or to talk to a superior. Be skeptical, and if you’re not satisfied, don’t give out any information.
  • Talk to other friends or family members to see if they have any knowledge about what the person has asked of you and whether it’s above board before you give out any information.
  • Stay aware of popular schemes by following the news and resources such as the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information scam alerts or US Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Book.

Scams often go unreported. This makes it more difficult to stop those perpetrating the crimes. If you believe you’ve been scammed, or have experienced an attempt, report it to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-FTC-HELP or visit the FTC website to report it online www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov


Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online store, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at sagerarebooks.com

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