Have you ever gotten a phone call from Social Security or had a friend request on Facebook from someone who is already a FB friend? Maybe you received a text message offering to help you get a $1,400 stimulus check or notice that you won a sweepstakes, but need to pay a processing fee before you can collect. They are all scams.
The scammer legions are out to get your money and your information. In 2019 the FBI received 467,361 complaints, an average of nearly 1,300 per day. A 2022 report from the FTC commission tallied up 2.8 million complaints. Even FEMA has a webpage about post-disaster scams with suggestions on how to avoid being defrauded.
Billions of dollars are stolen every year. Some estimates say one in ten adults will be scammed or defrauded every year. One in five complaints come from adults over 65. According to an article in the New York Post, only one in 10 Americans have not been a victim of a fraud, scam, data breach, identity theft or social media hacking.
It’s enough to make one want to become a hermit, but there are some ways you can reduce the chances that you will become a victim.
If you get an email, text or social media message with a link address from someone you don’t know, don’t click on it. Those are frequently used to secretly download programs to steal your financial information and passwords as you continue to use your computer or phone.
Scammers frequently copy social media members’ profiles. They may pose as existing social media contacts, members of Space Force, models and others. Their goal is to steal your personal information or defraud you with fake investment opportunities. When anyone wants you to “friend” them on social media, check their profile. Usually, the profile of a scammer will have a recent creation date, no personal data and one or two posts. One exception is romance scammers, who post photos of sexy men/women and list exotic places and jobs in their biographies.
And if a known acquaintance contacts you via FB messaging, Google Chat, WhatsApp, etc. with a tale of woe and asks you to send them money, don’t do it! I once had a scammer pretend to be an acquaintance who had lost her credit card and needed to buy gifts for her nieces. I listened until the scammer told me to buy $500 worth of game cards and forward the value to an address.
Social Security scams have been around for a long time. Someone calls, claiming to be from Social Security. They say that there is a problem with your account and would you verify the following information? Newer variants include IRS, FEMA and credit card scams. Government agencies send letters; they do not call about tax, disaster relief or Social Security problems. Credit card companies call about attempted frauds, which are a problem, but their questions run to ”Did you use your card at Place X for an amount of $123?”
Recently job scams have become popular. Fake jobs are listed on Indeed.com and other job hunting sites. Scammers will “hire” jobhunters for high-paying jobs after scanty interviews. What they are after is personal information. A subgroup requires that those “hired” pay several thousand dollars for equipment that never shows up.
Classic stock scams have migrated to the computer universe. The scammer approaches the intended victim with an investment opportunity. Profits appear to grow quickly, until the victim wises up. Then the scammer and the victim’s money disappear into the wilds of the Internet.
The equally classic warning is “If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.” You didn’t win the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes if you didn’t enter. And if you did win, you would not need to pay to collect your winnings.
A joke dating from the early days of the Internet is “When you are online, no one knows that you are a dog.” In other words, when you are online you do not know with whom you are sharing your life stories, your vacation schedule or your children’s/grandchildren’s names, schools and ages. Stay cautious.
Many organizations offer advice on avoiding scams. Consumer Reports and AARP are two well-known ones that offer scam alerts. Fry’s and Walmart service desks in Globe have pamphlets about wire fraud schemes.
Your local banker may be a resource if you think someone is trying to defraud you. You would be surprised how many scams they encounter.
The FBI website has a section on How We Can Help You, Common Scams and Crimes. If you own a computer, search on “FBI common scams and crimes.” If you don’t have a computer, your local public library has computers and helpful librarians.