Archive for March, 2019

Scams and Tech, Part 3: Kicking Scammers to the Curb

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Make yourself a to-do list for completing these tips | photo via stock photos

We’ve already given you some tips to protect yourself against the scammers we’ve listed in this series, but what else can you do? How can you best ensure you’re safe from scams and scammers?

Sadly, there is no silver bullet, no perfect solution that will guarantee you’ll never be in contact with scammers or never fall victim to a scam. But there are many steps you can take to help protect yourself. These steps can be easily divided into two categories: proactive and reactive. Proactive steps are ones you can take to help ward off scammers—these are the best steps to take because they help prevent financial and/or identity loss. Although reactive steps aren’t as ideal, they’re a good way to handle scams after you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer or have been scammed.

Proactive

  • Consider opening an account for your Social Security number (SSN) at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ to monitor your Social Security account.
  • Consider freezing your credit—this option may help prevent identity theft, but don’t freeze your credit if you plan on making a major purchase in the near future, such as a car, boat or home. Credit checks run while your credit score is frozen will hurt your credit score.
  • Monitor your credit throughout the year. You’re entitled to free credit reports from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax once per company per year. Rather than get all three at once, spread these reports out every four months to stay vigilant. You can learn more at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action.
  • Never email or text your Social Security number or banking information, such as credit card, account, or routing numbers.
  • Never give your SSN or credit/banking information to someone who reaches out to you.
  • Educate yourself on the latest scams—scams tend to come in droves, so it’s helpful to learn what scammers might approach you with.
  • Install virus and malware protection on any device connected to the internet, including (but not limited to) computers, tablets, and smart phones.
  • Consider adding a trusted contact to your bank accounts—if unusual spending is noticed, your bank can alert you and your trusted contact (this may be particularly useful if you’re the victim of a romance scam).
  • Read reviews for organizations and businesses that send solicitations before engaging with them.
  • Look for the fine print on solicitations you receive. If a solicitation references a relationship with another business you know (say, your mortgage company or landlord/apartment management), contact that business directly to investigate the mail/email/text/phone call you’ve received.
  • Double-check any potential romantic/friend dates before pursuing a meeting or relationship. Let people you’re close to know about anyone involved in your life (even if the relationship is online-only).
  • Don’t open any emails or click on links or attachments you’re not expecting. This goes not just for emails from strangers but emails from loved ones—Scammers can hack into accounts or disguise their email address as coming from someone in your list of contacts.
  • Use your caller ID on your phone and let calls from unknown numbers go to your answering machine or voicemail. If you’re worried about missing an important call, you can always use the general principle, “If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.”

 

But maybe you’ve already gotten a suspect phone call, or a strange voicemail. Maybe you’ve realized, too late, that the person you gave your credit card number or sent money to wasn’t who they said they were. If these things have already happened, then it’s time to take reactive steps.

Reactive

  • If you receive a call you believe is a scam, hang up the phone immediately. If caller claims to be a from a legitimate business or organization, hang up the phone—reverse search and contact the actual organization. Ask if the organization has contacted you.
  • If you’ve opened an email that seems fishy, delete it immediately. DO NOT click on any links in the email!
  • If you’ve given your credit or banking information to someone you later suspect is a scammer, report this to your financial institutions and request new card and account numbers.
  • Report any attempted scams.
  • If you’ve been a victim of a scam, report it—your report will help you AND might prevent someone from being scammed in the future.
  • You can report fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
  • To report Social Security scams, call the Office of the Inspector General at ?1-800-269-0271 or report online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
  • If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.
  • Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to report it if you’ve been the victim of a scam—scams can happen to anyone.

 

While this is not a comprehensive list, these suggestions can help guard you against tech-based scams or help you even after you’ve found yourself to be victim of a scam. Remember, scams can pop up anytime, from anywhere, and are especially prevalent through all of our tech-devices. Remaining vigilant and working to minimize your exposures to scams is the best way to prevent being scammed. But if you are the victim of a scam, report your scam to the proper authorities—your report could help you and could prevent someone else from being scammed!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series on tech-based scams! Come back in April for our newest blog!


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others. 

Scams and Tech, Part 2: Sweetheart Scams

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

Are they interested in you, or your money? | photo via unsplash.com

In part one of our tech-scams series, we talked about the all-pervasive en-masse scams, the kinds of scams that flood your inbox and phone. Today we talk about a scam more sinister and possibly more dangerous, the romance scam.

Romance scams, also known as “sweetheart” scams, are one of the most prevalent tech-based scams. These scams may start off all “<3”s and “XOXO”s, but they end with heartbreak, $0.00 in your bank account, and maybe your stolen identity.

Romance/sweetheart scams are longer, more intense scams than the scams in the first installment of our tech-scams series. Sweetheart scams typically start online on dating websites or internet forums, but can quickly migrate to messaging services, emails, phone calls, or text messages. Many people fall victim to romance scams because of their long, drawn-out nature. It’s important to note that these kinds of scams aren’t new, but they’ve become easier for scammers to instigate with the advent of the internet, dating websites, and social media apps. It’s also important to know that although sweetheart scams are most common through internet-based channels, they can and do still occur offline through newspaper personal ads, etc.

Sweetheart scams target adults across all ages, but they’re more prevalent among older adults. And they’re successful. What does this mean and why? How can you protect yourself? How do romance scams work?

Some victims believe they’ll be quick to pick up on the lies, others may be blinded by an attraction or feeling of affection for the person they believe the scammer to be. Although it’s easy to think we can always tell if someone is interested in us or just our wallets, the truth is, it isn’t that simple. In romance scams the scammer is interested in a bigger payout, so they’re willing to invest more time and energy into the scam. This means they put a lot more effort into gaining your trust and access to your money and information. Long before they’ve talked to you, they’ll already have their stories straight. They’ll already have pictures they can send to you, phones they can use to call you, and plausible reasons why they can’t meet you or why they might run into financial troubles.

And, despite their name, sweetheart scams aren’t always overtly romantic in nature. Although the relationship between the scammer and victim is often under the pretext of dating or romance, the relationship may be seen as a friendship or companionship by one or both parties. Some people fall victim to these scammers because they believe sweetheart scams always involve overt romance or dating. The sad reality is that plenty of people have been scammed out of their money or identity believing they’re helping a dear “friend” they’ve met online.

So it can be easier for people to fall prey to sweetheart scams. But why is it so hard to get out of them? Won’t somebody in that person’s life notice? Won’t the victims eventually realize what’s going on?

 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, suffice it to say there are many reasons it can be more difficult to get someone out of a romance scam, or even to notice one is occurring. Some of these reasons include:

  • The victim may be secretive about the relationship or may not divulge certain details (Even in the best, non-abusive, of circumstances, many of us are unlikely to tell friends and family how much money we’ve loaned or given to our significant other)
  • If the victim or the victim’s closest contacts aren’t scam-savvy (or if cognitive issues play a role) it may be harder for the victim to recognize red flags, such as common scamming techniques
  • Affection and attention are crucial to our happiness and health—If the victim is, or feels, isolated they may be more susceptible to sweetheart scams
  • Scammers may use “gaslighting” to make victims doubt themselves—“Gaslighting” refers to a technique common in abusive relationships where the abuser manipulates their victim into questioning their own perception of reality or sanity
  • Even if the victim has concerns, they may be too embarrassed to ask for help

 

Romance scams can be extremely difficult for not just the people directly involved, but for the people around the victim as well. Sweetheart scams prey on our need for love, affection, and companionship, and it can be incredibly painful to admit there’s a problem. It can be even harder to give those things up—even if the scammer’s “affection” isn’t genuine. The victim’s loved ones may also find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they don’t want to see their loved ones continue to be financially abused, but they also may come against a defensive victim who is unwilling to believe their boyfriend/girlfriend or friend is really taking advantage of them.

Across the country (and globe), there are countless stories of sweetheart scams and their victims. People who have been left bankrupt, had their identity stolen, or, at the very least, had their sense of safety and stability disrupted. Sadly, there are still many more victims out there who will never come forward out of feelings of embarrassment or shame. Some victims can recoup some of their losses through the legal system, but, unfortunately, most won’t see any of their money returned. The best way to avoid the losses caused by a romance scam is to steer clear of them through education and vigilance.

 

Here are some common tricks look out for:

  • The person claims to be in the military and unable to access funds (impersonating soldiers deployed overseas is a common tactic used by scammers. The U.S. military and U.S. government warn that you should not send money to anyone overseas or with these claims)
  • The person claims they have a large amount of money they’re currently unable to access (but promise to share this wealth with you in the future)
  • The person can never meet in person—or they make plans to meet but need to cancel after an emergency or tragedy (or they never show up at all)
  • The person consistently asks to borrow money
  • They ask for personal information that could be linked to your financial information
  • They ask for access to your financial information or accounts (they may use this for future identify theft or monetary theft)
  • It’s a “whirlwind” relationship
  • They ask you to send wire transfers, gift cards, or electronics
  • Reverse check the picture of your date—if the picture is attached to more than one profile, this is a major red flag
  • It seems “too good to be true”—whether it’s their profession, their photos, their financial situation, a combination of these factors or something else entirely, follow the old adage “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

 

Dating websites, apps, and online forums can still be wonderful places to meet people for romance or friendship. The prevalence of romance scams doesn’t mean you need to throw out your computer or delete your apps, but it does mean you need be consistently vigilant and careful.

Just as you would with a blind date, let trusted people in your life know who you’re talking to online. They can help be a barometer for “normal” or “suspect” behavior and can alert you when something seems fishy—listen to their concerns and take them seriously, they are looking out for you.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of an online scam, register a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx or with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ or by calling 800-242-5846 (toll-free in NJ) or 973-504-6200.


Mason Crane-Bolton is Communications Manager for the New Jersey Foundation for Aging. His writing has appeared in EpiphanyUU WorldTo Wake/To Rise, and others.