Recognize These Scams?
I recently received a ton of stories about relatives who dealt with a variety of scammers that tried (and sometimes successfully) “shook down” money from an unsuspecting victim. Unfortunately, the combination of the holidays and preying upon mature age humans is growing more common, especially in the age of email, the need for health assistance, and the electronic transmission of funds.
With the continued growth of social media and other electronic communications, scammers are finding new ways to contact individuals with the wonderful news that for just a small claim fee, the individual has won some large amount of cash, or other non-existent prizes. Here are some of the most popular and current scams to watch out for:
Caregivers– Scammers post fake job listings for caregivers, then make up elaborate stories to get your money. Make sure you conduct a background check for caregivers taking care of your loved ones or you. They will pressure you to act quickly before you have time to think. Check with your liability insurance carrier to see if your insurance accepts contracted private care in your home. Do not leave personal information in plain sight, such as bank statements, checkbooks, and credit cards. Unfortunately, unscrupulous caregivers in positions of trust have been reported for stealing checks from their patients and forging their signature. The almost always take checks from the back of the checkbook, so that the victim won’t notice a numbered check missing until the scammer is long gone. Most caregivers are wonderful humans and do a fantastic job for their patients, however, due to a few bad apples, you need to be aware.
Package Scam – You receive a text or an e-mail that they (Fedex, UPS, etc.) is trying to deliver a package to you, but they need some additional information from you to verify before they deliver it. Sometimes a bogus tracking number is included. When you clink on the link in the text or e-mail, you have been “phished” and they are extracting information from your computer. Other times, they will ask you for your driver’s license number, social security number or date of birth. Remember, these delivery companies do not need to ask your information to deliver a package, so don’t fall for it.
Sweepstakes/Lottery– Winning a fabulous sweepstakes prize is a dream come true. However, that dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. What you think is a legitimate win notification turns out to be a sweepstakes scam. A friend receives information by phone, snail mail, or email that they have won the lottery and all you need to do is pay the taxes on your winnings and the big prize is yours. Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to pay fees to participate or pay sweepstakes taxes. Sweepstakes taxes are paid to the IRS along with your regular tax return. You may even get a bogus check in the mail. Then you send them their “fee” figuring the check they sent you validates the winnings.
Romance/Friendship– This is where the scammer works on their “pigeon” for weeks or months developing either a friendship or romantic alliance. They may claim to be an old classmate or an old girlfriend or boyfriend from your past. After many weeks or even months of building an email or letter relationship, they suddenly need money to deal with a medical issue or say they finally want to meet you in person to travel to meet you. Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven’t met in person. The better scammers now are calling too, using pre-paid phone cards or pre-paid phones that can’t be traced to the phone they are calling you from. Many of my friends have been scammed out of thousands of dollars when they are most vulnerable.
Gift Card Scam – Scammers pretending to be from the IRS, Social Security, utility companies, etc. will contact you by phone and tell you owe them money. When they ask you for a checking or savings account numner for immediate payment, and you refuse, they go to “Plan B.” They will tell you to go purchase a gift card to, say Google, Amazon, or any large chain and read them the PIN number and amount of the card purchased. If you do that, they quickly use that information to make a purchase – on your card. Your card is then immediately worth a big fat zero. Zilch. Nada.
The Grandparent Scheme– Scam artists will use any leverage they can conjure to separate you from your money. Sadly, that includes exploiting grandparents’ love and concern for their grandchildren. First, you receive a telephone call from someone posing as your grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice, that he or she is in trouble. There’s been an accident, an arrest, or a robbery. To up the drama and urgency, the caller might claim to be in a foreign country and need money wired immediately. The scammer who contacts you may have enough information about your grandchild and throw in a few family names, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity, or simply by researching your name on the Internet and finding relatives linked to you. They may claim their voices sound different due to their injuries or excited state. Always check with another relative first before wiring money, giving your credit card, debit card, or PayPal information. Never wire funds without verifying who you are in contact with, and where the funds are going.
Social Security– Some scammers claim to be with the Social Security Administration and will tell you that your social security number and your account have been suspended. Remember that Social Security employees will never threaten you. No government agency or reputable company will call or email you unexpectedly and request personal information. Build a habit of verifying the identity of anyone who asks for your personal information over the phone, always hang up and call 800 772-1213 to talk with a real Social Security representative. Store your Social Security card in a secure location; avoid carrying it with you because you never know who’s looking over your shoulder.
Tech Support– A scammer contacts you and pretends to be a computer technician from a well-known company, perhaps your ISP (Internet Service Provider). They say they’ve found a problem with your computer. They often ask you to give them remote access to your computer and then pretend to run a diagnostic test. Then they try to make you pay to fix the problem that does not exist or that they have actually created. Avoid opening emails from unknown sources or clicking on suspicious hyperlinks. Equip your computing devices with strong anti-virus software and maintain strong passwords. If you need help fixing a problem, go to someone you know and trust, such as a local computer repair store.
Scams are becoming more sophisticated and many people fall victim to them. Often embarrassment takes hold of some victims of such scams, and they fail to report these incidents to the police or FBI, leaving the scammer to target yet another poor human. If you have fallen victim to a scam, make sure you report it. You may not always be able to get your money back, but you might be able to reduce the damage, and take steps to stop it happening again to you or other people.