How to Safeguard Yourself Against Common Scams
There are many scams that target families of all income levels. Find a list of tips and suggestions below for not only how to identify them, but also how to protect yourself against them. These are even more important for the elderly, un or under educated, non-English speakers, immigrants and others who tend to be more targeted by scammers. While they may be more targeted, it can really happen to anyone, even the highly educated upper income Americans.
There are several ways that con artists or liars target their potential victims. The different methods used to deceive individuals share some common traits and can be somewhat (mostly?) safeguarded against if you're aware of how they operate. You also need to be smart about it. These four tips will enable you to become more informed of the dangers we all face in everyday life and will help you protect yourself from harm.
As access to the internet becomes more ubiquitous from devices of all sorts (tablets, watches, phones, computers, cars, etc.), the number of nefarious companies as well as individuals operating online also increases. Adhering to just a few general security practices will improve your online safety immensely, which will lower your chances of being scammed or picked up in some scheme.
Firstly, ensure your antivirus software is installed and also up to date. There is plenty of free antivirus software available online as well as inexpensive commercial products. Check independent reviews before installing anything on your computer and access the settings to turn on any auto-update feature it may have to ensure you stay protected as threats evolve.
Watch out for “phishing scams”, which will be sent to you in an email. Apply the strictest possible setting to your spam filter and NEVER click any unsolicited links you may receive in emails. Emailed links is a common way for fraudsters to hack into computers. Always double check the email address of any correspondence you receive by hovering your mouse over the sender's name. Many scam artists will send emails from accounts that look deliberately similar to official sources, including your friends, family members, or business associates.
Be sure to choose unique passwords, and set them carefully. Try to use different ones for different accounts. When entering personal details into a website, check the space to the left of the URL for a small green padlock. This is even more true for when sharing financial data, online banking or shopping. Sites that have switched to HTTPS instead of HTTP will have a green padlock to show for it. HTTPS sites encrypt all data sent from and received by their site so your information will be inherently more secure.
Social media is a major tool of fraudsters now. Review your security settings on all accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others. The challenge is their security policies always change, so to avoid a social media scam, unfortunately you will need to keep up on those various policies.
2. Identity Theft
This really falls into multiple baskets. The can originate in many ways, including phone, online, fake websites, mail, and really anything. The bottom line is never give out any pieces of your identity, whether tax ID or SS#, to someone over the phone or in the mail.
If you truly think the request is legit, then call the company yourself to confirm. For example, if you receive a request from a bank or credit card company for your ID, then what you do is to not given the information over the phone or in the mail. Instead, to protect yourself against fraud, get the phone number for the bank yourself then dial their customer support team…call them directly and do not reply to some unknow caller or piece of mail (or website). This will help you protect your identity.
3. Financial Scams
These are often targeted at low income families. There could be loan offers made (with a super high interest rate) which can be called predatory loans. These offers could come in the mail, a website, or over the phone. The loans may be offered to pay bills, consolidate debt, or help the family in some other way.
Extortion and blackmail are also types of financial scams. There are people who prey on successful individuals and who are seeking an illegal payment from them. Extortion can be initiated by criminals from any number of life events, and if you are a victim of this type of illegal scam or event, contact the FBI.
Other common scam that is financial in nature is around free money and/or government grants. Maybe the fraudster says there is money out there for the recipient and they just need to claim it. Or they entice students with free scholarship offers. This can be very enticing for the vulnerable who may need financial help. The fact is there is no such thing as free money…so be very cautious when presented with this scam.
IRS Scams are a big one too. They tend to kick off in the spring of each year before tax filing season. There can be illegal collection calls, people stealing your tax return from filing using your SS#, and other fraud as well. The IRS publishes guidelines each year on common scams around tax filing season. The bottom line…the IRS will never call you out of the blue or knock on your door. They only communicate via official letters in the US postal service.
Elderly, seniors, and widows are often the target of fraud. A number of different scams can target senior citizens. It may be relationship oriented, a promise of extra money to help them pay the bills, or someone who tries to be their companion. Sadly senior citizens are often targeted, and too often fall for scams.
4. Scam Phone Calls
Unsolicited phone calls often present a real security threat to the recipient. Never give out any personal information over the telephone. Legitimate companies or government organizations, such as the IRS, will not ask for any information that could pose a security threat, so treat anyone that does as illegitimate and end the call immediately.
The act of procuring information over the phone that could be used to access personal data is known as social engineering. Or it may Robo Calls too. There may even be text messages sent now as a form of scamming. Scammers will use many techniques to make the victim hand over details such as passwords, PIN codes, social security numbers, credit card numbers or answers to security questions.
Some con artists will try to pass themselves off as a legitimate entity whereas others will simply try to overwhelm or confuse the victim. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure, end the call and take time to evaluate the situation. Never be rushed or pressured into giving out information.
Postal scams and fraud in the United States mail system often take the form of marketing materials that make spurious claims about competition wins and investment opportunities. But there is also employment fraud, scams targeted at senior citizens, Chain Letters, Ponzi schemes, and many others. The US postal inspection service is warning families against the latest fraud.
Generally, it's safe to say that none of these opportunities offer a real chance of personal benefit so they could all be placed immediately in the recycling bin. The literature will often claim that the victim could make a lot of money if they simply hand over some basic information. Or they may ask for personal information, claim a disabled person or elderly individual has money waiting for them, or try to entice the family in some other way. Some mail scams even impersonate the lottery. In reality, there will be no prize and your details will be used against you.
If you become curious and decide to hand over your contact details even once, you will be placed on a mailing list and targeted to a greater extent. If you receive something that you haven't requested, think carefully before handing over any personal details.
6. Charity Scams
This form of fraud is becoming more common using websites such as GoFundMe, non-profits, medical scams, “sob” stories and more. Sadly there are many individuals who try to in effect steal money from others using some site of sad story. Maybe they claim they have cancer, are sick, homeless, or face some other life event, so they ask for money.
Be very cautious when receiving or hearing about these type of requests. There are too many scams when it comes to this. We recommend never donating money unless you know the person personally…and if you do give the money away, be sure you will be OK psychologically if you later learn out you were scammed.
It's rarer for a scam artist to visit a house in-person but it does still occur. This is even more the case for senior citizens who may live alone…fraudsters have a way of targeting the lonely. Doorstep scammers often opt for a more calculated approach by targeting individuals who they have previously identified as being vulnerable to their tactics. The elderly and people living on their own are considered more likely victims. Be wary of anyone that knocks on your door without an appointment and don't invite them in unless you feel 100% safe.
8. Work from Home
Many Americans seek to make a few extra dollars, often from a work from home type job. There are many companies as well as individuals that make promises to people that they can make easy money. These work from home scams often request funds from the applicant up front so they can “enroll” into their program, and that should always be a “red flag”. Find a common list of work from home scams.
If a scam artist does gain entry to a property, they could use tactics designed to confuse or intimidate to part you with your cash or details. Furthermore, they could be scoping the property out for a later robbery attempt. The best defense against such tactics is to install an intercom or a chain that lets you communicate without opening the door. If you don't know them, don't let them in without good reason.
Protect yourself from scams and report them
People of all ages can become victims of crime. Luckily, your chances of falling for a scam drastically reduce if you take the time to become educated on the subject. By knowing the areas in which con artists operate, you will be better prepared to protect yourself should the need arise.
If you are aware of one, or the target/victim of a scam, report it. The FBI, IRS, and other agencies are involved in fighting fraudsters, scams, and the like. More information is here. https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety