Always Vigilant and Ever Alert: Protecting Yourself from Scams
In this day and age, we have access to boundless information right at our fingertips. From cell phones to computers, ChatGPT to Google, there is no denying that technology has made our lives easier in more ways than we could have imagined possible 30 or 40 years ago. However, convenience often comes at a price. The Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) Elder Fraud Report shows that more than 88,000 individuals over the age of sixty were scammed out of $3.1 billion dollars in 2022, with each victim losing an average of $35,101. That is an 84% increase in total losses from 2021!
Those are some scary statistics—but fear not! There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to one of the many scams targeting older adults.
Step 1: Arm Yourself with Knowledge.
As scammers get smarter and more cunning, identifying fraud is becoming increasingly difficult. Luckily, there are several common underlying elements of a con that can help you recognize one before it is too late.
If you receive a phone call or email from someone claiming to be with a federal agency and requesting personal information, you can be certain that you are interacting with a scammer. No federal agency will ever reach out to you and request your personal information over the phone or via email. If in doubt, hang up and call the agency at the phone number listed on the organization’s official website or obtained through another trusted source.
Another clue lies within the payment method being requested. Is someone asking you to make a payment in the form of a gift card? Gift cards are not an appropriate form of payment in legitimate transactions. Fraudsters love gift cards because they can’t be refunded, nor can they be disputed. Gift cards also cannot be traced, as they are not connected to an individual person or account. If you receive an email, phone call, or letter asking you to provide gift cards in exchange for a good, service, or prize, don’t do it and report the incident. It’s a scam. Also be weary of requests to pay via cryptocurrency or wire transfer for the same reasons listed above.
Many of us love a good bargain, especially an exclusive deal offered for a limited time only. Unfortunately, con artists know this and will often use that “opportunity of a lifetime” urgency to pressure victims to act quickly. If a caller is pushing you to make a decision, especially regarding an unsolicited offer, without giving you time to think through your options or fact-check what he is telling you, there is a good chance that he is a scammer.
In all cases, if you suspect that someone is trying to scam you, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Step 2: Play “Hard to Get” with Your Personal Information.
Scammers will have a much harder time swindling you if you’re not easy to find. With the rise of social media and the presence of recording devices on every cell phone, remaining completely anonymous is nearly impossible today—and that’s ok. All of us have a basic human need for connection—and technology has provided us with brand new ways of satisfying that need. While connecting with others is critical to our overall wellbeing, fraudsters can use social media and other websites to access our personal information, so it is important to keep that data as secure as possible.
Utilize the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry to remove your name from telemarketer call lists. Registering your phone number does not guarantee that all unwanted calls will be blocked, but doing so does provide additional protection and equips you with another means of reporting phone scams. The Do Not Call website notes that registering will not prevent charities, political groups, debt collectors, or survey groups from calling.
To better ensure that information shared over social media is secure, check your privacy settings, especially if it has been over a year since you last did so. Consumer Reports’ website offers several articles on how to navigate these settings—like this one on how to use Facebook’s privacy settings.
Another scam happening more and more often to seniors preys upon their love for their families. Callers pretend to be a loved one—typically a grandchild—and claim that they have been injured, arrested, or otherwise harmed. They insist that they need money to help them out of an emergency situation and then ask the victim to keep the exchange a secret so that they don’t get in trouble. While our typical first instinct would be to come to the aid of our loved one as quickly as possible, it is crucial that we verify that the caller is, indeed, who he says he is before sending money. Ask the caller questions that only your loved one would be able to answer. If you have any doubt at all, hang up and reach out to your loved one using a trusted phone number or email address to confirm that he is safe.
Many times, our phones ring and we wonder, “Who’s that calling me?” Don’t have that number saved in your phone? Don’t answer it! Screening your phone calls and emails can also help prevent you from falling for a scam. If you don’t recognize the contact information, don’t pick up. Callers who really need to speak to you for legitimate reasons will almost always leave a voicemail.
The best way to protect yourself from scams in most situations is to never share your personal information—AT ALL. You are never obligated to give out personal information to anyone unless you are personally acquainted and wholly familiar with the individual or institution they are representing, such as your doctor’s office or your 401(k) agency.
Step 3: Tell someone, Don’t be embarrassed.
In this ever-changing world, no one is immune to fraud. Even the most vigilant skeptics can fall victim. If you find that you have fallen for a scam, the most important thing to remember is that you are only human and there is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend for guidance and support and take steps to minimize the damage.
Contact your bank and inform them of the situation. They can help you cancel affected credit/debit cards or accounts and issue new ones as well as provide additional guidance and resources. Write down any details you remember about the fraud—details like company name, phone number or email address connected to the event, what was said or typed, etc. Once you have all of the details documented, report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Sadly, scams are everywhere and aren’t likely to go away anytime soon—but they don’t have to affect your life. By remaining cautious and alert, you can help protect yourself from falling victim.