It wasn’t that long ago when money and assets were safe, or at least there was a high degree of perceived safety. Investment accounts were secured by SIPC insurance, and the same could be said about FDIC-insured bank accounts. And, if you spotted a fraudulent charge on your credit card, all that was required to remove it was a quick phone call to the number on the back of the card.
Sure, there were fraudsters and scammers, but potential access to your personal finances was much more limited.
While those same SIPC, FDIC and credit card protections remain in place today, the advent of the internet, social media and a global reach have led to a proliferation of scams that can quickly deliver a knockout blow to your savings.
While you need not be in a perpetual state of readiness, a healthy level of vigilance and skepticism can go a long way. It will protect your savings and prevent you from becoming a victim of fraud.
How can you avoid becoming a victim? The FTC highlights four elements that can help you spot a scam.
How to Spot a Scam
- Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know. They may claim to be from the Social Security Administration, the IRS, a bank, a well-known company such as PayPal, Netflix or Amazon, or your local utility.
Never give someone your password, bank information, PIN number, social security number or personal identifying information. Never settle a debt or problem over the phone from an unexpected call that came your way.
Many solicitors are scammers looking for money. If you pay these criminals, they will come back in a short period of time, claiming another discrepancy was found and another payment is needed.
- Scammers say there is a problem or a prize. You’ve won a big prize, just make a good faith down payment to receive your winnings. If you do, you’ll never see that money again.
- Scammers pressure you to act immediately. Whether a scammer or salesperson, pressure to act immediately is a red flag. Hang up the phone. You are in control. Don’t cede that control to someone else.
- Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way. They may insist you send money through a money transfer company or put money on a gift card. Then, they will ask you to give them the number on the back of the gift card. Or, someone will send you a check, request you to deposit it, and ask you to send them some of the money. That check will bounce after you’ve delivered the cash to the scammer.
Major Scams Targeting Older Adults
Older adults lost $600 million to fraud in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic fueled spikes in almost all top categories of fraud, federal officials say.
Whether it is Zoom phishing emails, COVID-19 vaccination card scams, phony online websites or romance scams, please be leery when you venture online or on social media sites. Recently, the AARP highlighted some of the avenues fraudsters use to take your money.
For example, according to Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau:
“You receive an email, text or social media message with the Zoom logo, telling you to click on a link because your account is suspended or you missed a meeting. Clicking can allow criminals to download malicious software onto your computer.”
Avoid being defrauded by following several common sense tips offered by the FTC.
- Block unwanted calls and text messages.
- Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Legitimate organizations won’t call, email or text to ask for your personal information.
- If you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Instead, contact them using a website you know is trustworthy. Don’t call a number they provided or the number from your caller ID.
- Resist the pressure to act immediately. Legitimate businesses will give you time to make a decision.
- Know how scammers tell you to pay. Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card, by using a money transfer service or by setting up a PayPal account. Additionally, never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
- Stop and talk to someone you trust.
If, unfortunately, you find you have become a victim, you can report the incident to the FTC.
Just remember: Delete suspicious emails, ignore suspicious texts, hang up and don’t argue with scammers.