November 17, 2014 – The busy holiday season is just around the corner, a time when con artists will try to catch you off guard to separate you from your money and/or personal information. The Lutheran Village at MILLER’S GRANT recently held a workshop to help Depositors and the community understand how to spot a scam and prevent getting ripped off.
Scammers often target older adults because they believe they have a lot of assets, have poor memory, will be polite (even if they become suspicious), and will often avoid reporting that they’ve been taken. While there are many scams out there, the most common are imposter scams, fake check scams, charity scams, and health care scams.
Someone contacts you pretending to be a well-known organization, someone you know or do business with, the government, a collection agency, etc. They’ll apply pressure for you to act quickly by wiring them money. Some recent examples include the ‘grandparent scam’ where a person claiming to be a grandchild needs money now to get out of trouble; the ‘foreign dignitary’ who needs to get money out of his country quickly; and a collection agency or the Internal Revenue Service claiming that you must wire money immediately or you will be arrested.
Each of these scams involves wiring money to another country or getting a pre-paid card. “If you really think about it, they’re asking you to do something illegal,” said Beth Silverman, an investigator with the Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs. “They’re asking you to launder money.”
Fake Check Scams
You are asked to deposit a check to your bank account, most often from alleged winnings in a lottery or sweepstakes. You are then asked to return ‘taxes and fees’ to the person who sent it to you. Weeks later the check you ‘won’ is declared bad by the bank, but the check you wrote to the scammer was perfectly good.
The holidays and immediately after disasters are times when many people give to charities. Scammers will contact you by phone and will use a sound-alike name to a familiar, and reputable, charitable organization and apply high pressure for an immediate donation. For example, they may claim to be calling from the “American Red Cross Association” in hopes that you’ll only hear “American Red Cross.” If you are unsure whether a caller is legitimate, ask them to mail you information before you make a decision to give.
Health Care Scams
The health care system is complex and difficult to navigate, creating a perfect environment for con artists. Many health care providers still ask patients for a social security number or Medicare identification number. It is OK to ask why they are asking for it, what they are doing to protect your information, and whether they really need that number at this time. If you receive a call or email asking for your personal medical information, or offering you a new Medicare card, health insurance plan, medical device or miracle cure that you must act immediately for, it’s most likely a scam.
Other Great Tips
- Never disclose personal or financial information to people you don’t know unless YOU initiate the transaction.
- Be sure to review your monthly bank and credit card statements, cell phone and cable bills, etc. Small fraudulent charges often go unnoticed. Don’t hesitate to question charges you don’t understand.
- Use caller ID. If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it.
- Never reply to emails that request personal information. No bank, business or government agency will contact you by email for this information.
- Never download an attachment or click a link in an email from a sender you do not know.
- Always use a credit card – not a debit card – when buying online.
- Use your bank’s bill pay service instead of your personal checking account when paying bills online.
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand or if there are blank spaces.
- Always shred documents that contain personal information.
“The bottom line is there is no free lunch – if you get an unsolicited request for money, investigate it thoroughly before sharing any financial information or investing because there’s a great probability that it’s a scam,” said Westminster City Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. “If you are suspicious about any offer you should call the police or other authorities.”
Copyright © 2014 Lisa Albin