By Pam Atkinson M.S, Elm Haven Place
Yes, you probably are, but can you control all aspects of your life that make you vulnerable to scammers? Scammers are not the greasy haired, beady-eyed sleezy person of our parents’ time. Actually, they are intelligent manipulators who use narcissistic behaviors, as well as knowledge gained in higher education areas of psychology and business, to defraud people. They excel at listening to exploit the vulnerabilities of good people to achieve what they want—money, lots of it, and yours!
Research is showing that victims are not uneducated, people who have no common sense. Often, they are highly educated people who were unfortunate enough to have some vulnerability exploited for someone else’s gain. We all have areas where we are vulnerable, maybe it’s our love of animals, our kids and grandchildren, or refugees in other countries. Maybe we are vulnerable due to social isolation during Covid, or experiencing loss—a home, a disaster, family, and friends. Maybe we are just overwhelmed with everything these days and don’t have enough room in our brains to sort out all the information scammers are assaulting us with. Either way, becoming a victim of a scam IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
Scams come at us from all directions. They may arrive in your mailbox, a text message, phone call, e-mail, or though social media. Today’s scammers seek to build relationships with victims to earn their trust and therefore let their guard down.
Ten things to help prevent scams.
- Secure your phone. Take the time to put all your contacts in your phone by name. Include people you do business with—banks, doctors, pharmacies, handymen, and repair companies.
- Don’t answer your phone if you aren’t positive who is calling. If it’s important, they will leave a message. Block numbers of people who hang up or call repeatedly (auto warranties). Sometimes scammers can use apps or software that can make it look like they are calling from one of your contacts—this is called spoofing. Hang up immediately.
- Never make a snap decision. If it’s a good deal today—it will still be a good deal tomorrow and if you aren’t allowed to take the time to research and think about the offer—it’s probably a scam. Nothing goes that quickly except maybe concert tickets!
- Take the time to research the “offer.” If the caller is from a bank or utility company or someone you do business with, take the time to get the details and then hang up and call the company back and verify. Look up the official published number—not the one the potential scammers gave you.
- Request proof in writing that you owe. And don’t give them your personal information. If you have a legitimate account with someone—they have your information—address, account numbers, social security numbers etc. Scammers are looking for this information. Don’t give it to them!
- When being asked for payment, be especially careful of the payment methods. Scammers often request gift cards, prepaid debit cards, Western Union wire services, and more recently cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and Peer2Peer apps like Venmo, Zelle, and Cashapp. All these methods are hard to track down and prosecute—especially overseas.
- For scams involving family members (Help Grandma—I need money and don’t tell mom) create a family password or question that only family members know. For example, ask “Is your sister with you,” when you know there are no sisters.
- Beware merchandise being sold on the internet (Especially Facebook) whose price is too good to be true. I ordered some furnishings from a company who would direct ship from China. I never got the materials I ordered and got some tooth whitening strips instead. The process to return and get my money back was intentionally arduous and lengthy causing me to just forget the whole thing—exactly what they want.
- Beware of FREE items—only pay for shipping. I thought I had researched this one carefully. Figuring I would only lose a few dollars if it was a scam, I went ahead and ordered anyway. Never received my order. As I went back to check on it, I discovered that my debit card had been charged two times for over $100 each time. By the time I had discovered this, it was too late for any recourse.
- Finally, if you become a victim of a scam, REPORT IT! IF you received phone calls or other messages you believe are scams, report it! Scammers count on you being too embarrassed to report it and that’s how they keep getting away with the BILLIONS of dollars they make each year. It’s not your fault, they manipulated you. Help someone else not fall victim.
Pam Atkinson M.S., is a former Consumer Economics Educator for the University of Illinois Extension and currently the Onsite Community Director for Elm Haven Place in Elmwood, IL. You can reach her at Pam@elmhavenplace.com.