If it looks too good to be true, it is not true.
If an online contact warns you are in danger, but can pay to avoid the problem, it is not true.
It sounds like simple advice, but even after law enforcement agencies and media have sounded the alarm, people are still falling for scams.
We take no pleasure in writing news stories from local police logs about our neighbors who have been duped out of money they can ill afford to lose.
As technology takes a central part of our daily lives, more and more criminal charlatans are finding creative ways to bilk people of their savings.
Scammers will claim to be local law enforcement with a warrant for a person’s arrest, then an offer to accept money to avoid it happening. Scammers will claim to be grandchildren, asking for bail money from an international jail. Scammers will claim to be prospective employers eager to send a large signing bonus, then ask for a portion of it back. Scammers will pose as authority and familial figures of all kinds to build trust.
They’re all scams, however plausible they sound.
The mere mention of the Internal Revenue Service causes otherwise rational people to be duped by scammers. The federal agency in charge of collecting your taxes doesn’t initiate contact via social media or email. Its real agents don’t ask for payments to anyone other than the United States Treasury. Its website at irs.gov has a detailed page describing scams and how to avoid them. It makes for chilling reading.
Some tips to recognize and defeat fraud:
• Government agencies typically already know your basic personal information;
• Agencies are unlikely to call to announce a coming arrest and never seek money through prepaid debit cards like Green Dot;
• If you haven’t participated in a contest, you probably don’t win anything — and you certainly don’t want to pay a fee (or “taxes”) to receive it.
Frankly, it’s best to avoid sending money over the internet or phone when possible, unless you are sure you are dealing with a bona fide vendor.
Phone and email scammers often access personal information through social media accounts to seem credible during conversations. They are skilled at building long-term rapport with potential targets. This often happens through online dating sites, where the scammers work patiently to create a plausible “relationship” with their targets, then ask for money to bail them out of a fictional predicament.
Your social media accounts are ripe for sharing information that scammers and identity thieves can use. Those online posts where friends ask you to share the name of your first pet or where you met your spouse may appear harmless fun. But those are the same questions financial institutions ask you when they set up security questions to access your online accounts. Would you post these private secrets on the bathroom wall at a truck stop along Interstate 84? Sharing those details on Facebook is the online equivalent.
The most sickening aspect is that elderly people — who grew up in a more trusting age — are so vulnerable to scams. Many don’t have the same familiarity with technology as younger people whose entire lives have been lived in the personal computer or smartphone age.
These days, a scam caller can be anywhere in the world, because software exists to indicate that the number they are calling from is in your area code.
Because of embarrassment, victims can be shy about reporting they’ve been scammed.
If you suspect you are being scammed, call your local law enforcement agency with your suspicions before handing over any money.