Posts Tagged ‘finances’

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. 

Scams and Tech, Part 1: The En Masse Scams

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

By Mason Crane-Bolton

 Are you safe from scams? | photo via pexels.com

We know about tech. We know about scams—scams where older adults are often the target. But what do we know about how tech and scams overlap?

Wherever you live and however tech-savvy you consider yourself, it’s more than likely you encounter scams on an almost daily basis. Many of these scams may sound familiar: barely-legal businesses send flyers to your home insinuating to be affiliated with state or local agencies, or that urgent repairs need to be done to your residence; door-to-door or supermarket “magazine subscription sellers” try to get cash for magazines that will never come; a stranger who haunts a local business and always needs money for gas, etc. This isn’t a reason to give up on people or to believe that everyone you meet is out to do you wrong, but it is a reason to educate yourself and become “scam-savvy.” And where being scam-savvy may be more important than ever is in the use of those pervasive, everyday tools: our tech.

Why are there so many tech-based scams? Technology provides a quick and simple way for scammers to attempt scams on, literally, millions of people simultaneously at little to no cost. Scammers can send you emails, phone calls, and texts from anywhere in the world at any time. They can attach malware or spyware, infect your computer, get your information and your money. While there are some basic tools you can use to protect yourself from the uninvited scammers (antivirus programs for anything that connects to the internet—this includes not just computers, but smart phones, tablets, etc.) the most basic tools are free and always available: arming yourself with information, vigilance, and skepticism.

The tactics of most scammers are basic and easy to see through—so why do we fall for them? It’s not because we’re stupid or naïve—it’s because scammers also prey on our basic emotions: fear and love. The tactics of most scammers are to threaten either ourselves or someone we love.

Now, does this mean you can expect to get action movie-style emails in your inbox or texts to your phone? “Give me the last four digits of your Social Security Number or Fido gets it”? No, I don’t think that’s something you need to worry about. But what may happen is something like a call from the “IRS”—“We have recently opened a claim against you. Your bank accounts and benefits will be frozen unless we can confirm your Social Security Number,”—or from a “friend” of a loved one—“Hi, I’m a friend of your grandson and he just got arrested. He can’t make the call, but asked me to call you. Can you send a wire transfer for bail money?” Or you could get a seemingly legitimate email that appear to be from a well-known business, like Apple or Amazon.com, that claims your account has been locked, you’ve won a gift card, or someone has racked up huge charges to your account. (There are several other scams out there; the scams listed above are only a few examples of some of the currently common scam scenarios.) So, if and when you get these messages, what can you do?

First, don’t immediately react to your impulse of fear for yourself or a loved one. Don’t click on any links in an email, don’t rush off to send a wire transfer, and don’t give away any personal information, including your Social Security Number. Instead, stop, think, and confirm. Immediately hang up on any suspicious calls. If you have a concern about any claims against you or a freeze of your Social Security benefits, hang up and call the IRS (1-800-829-1040) or Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213 or TTY  1-800-325-0778) directly. Even if the number that called you appears to be coming from a legitimate government agency, don’t trust it (scammers can disguise their phone numbers easily) and call the agency directly. If you receive a call that a friend or relative has been arrested or is in the hospital and needs money call that person first to check out the story (some individuals have reported tricking the would-be scammer by giving a false name for the loved one, birthday, etc. to verify the scam is a scam, but we recommend hanging up immediately to spend as little time talking to the scammer as possible). And if you receive an email from a business, go directly to that business’s website and verify whether there is any problem with your account (or call customer service). Never give any financial information or personal information in any of these scenarios where you did not initiate contact.

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.

Scams like these are usually quick and dirty and easier to see through. The scammers aren’t too likely to hound you constantly—when you don’t fall for the scam, they’ll just move onto the next person so they can make a buck. And usually (but now always) this means they’re a little easier to spot and avoid. The IRS and SSA won’t send you robo-calls or leave automatic voicemails, your grandchild or friend isn’t likely to have a third party call you while they’re in jail, and you’re probably not the winner (but we can dream) of a $1,000.00 Amazon gift card. But what other common scams are out there?

Check back on March 7th for part 2 of our tech-scam series: One of the other most common scams aimed at older adults? “Sweetheart” scams.


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. 

Phone Scams

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Here are NJFA, we like to make sure we are keeping folks aware of scams and fraud issues. Our February episode of Aging Insights, is titled, Stop Identity Theft and features two guests that will help viewers to protect themselves. We also want to address a scam that’s been in the news.

Recently, news outlets across the United States reported on a new scam referred to as the “can you hear me?” telephone scam. According to those¬†reports, the scam begins with an unsolicited phone call. After the caller makes contact they ask the recipient “Can you hear me?” to elicit a response of “yes,” and a potential onslaught of unauthorized charges ensues.

The story goes that if you get this call and respond “yes” to the question, “can you hear me?” that the scammer could be recording it and could use it against you. There is the possibility that you could receive a bill for something you did not purchase or agree to and when you go to dispute the bill you will be presented with your own voice saying “yes” on the recording.

The first thing we want to warn readers about is if you don’t know the caller or are suspicious of their intent, you should always hang up. Do not give personal information or engage the caller in conversation if you have doubts about the legitimacy of the call. You should also contact the appropriate authority to report any issues or to verify any information you are given on the call. For example, if the caller claims to be from your utility company, call the # on your monthly statement to verify your account status or any issues.

After some additional research, we‚Äôd also like you to know what some investigators have discovered about this scam. According to the fact-finding website, Snopes, ‚Äúwe haven’t yet been able to identify any scenario under which a scammer could authorize charges in another person’s name simply by possessing a voice recording of that person saying “yes,” without also already possessing a good deal of personal and account information for that person, and without being able to reproduce any other form of verbal response from that person.‚Äù That doesn‚Äôt mean it cannot happen, just that the reports thus far only support the threat and not any actual monetary charges.

The Snopes article adds, ‚ÄúIn all the news reports we found, interviewees¬†merely¬†reported¬†having been asked the common question (“Can you hear me?”) but did not state that they themselves had fallen prey to scammers.‚Äù

That being said, we still advice you to use caution when receiving unsolicited phone calls, hanging up is ok. And if you have any scams or crimes to report, contact your local police, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-438-4338), and/or your local Better Business Bureau.

 

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Money saving tips

Friday, September 13th, 2013

Money saving tips

Here are some great tips for saving money. We gathered these from various sources, to learn more about each follow the links provided or contact a trusted financial advisor. 

Find your pension

To see if you or someone you know has an unclaimed pension-Search.pbgc.gov

Free credit monitoring

Creditsesame.com

Catch-up

If you are 50 or over you can contribute an extra $5,500 to your 401K plan as a catch up contribution in 2013

 Family ties

If adult children or grandchildren live with you it may mean special tax breaks. Ask your tax preparer about claiming dependents for family members you support.

Save on stamps

Paying bills online means not buying stamps

Free credit report

Don’t pay for credit reports. Get a free copy once a year from three companies- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Visit annualcreditreport.com

Selling your home?

The best day of the week to list your home for sale is Friday and the worst is Sunday. according to an analysis by a major real-estate brokerage firm. Listings on Fridays sell faster and for more money.

Save money on medications

Ask your doctor for free samples. Drug company reps drop them off all the time.

Skip the ER

If you have a non-life-threatening medical issue, like fevers, cuts, minor burns or headaches. Urgent care centers with walk-in features are more affordable and usually are open 7 days a week.

Grow it

If you put the stub of romaine lettuce in a glass of water and place it in a sunny spot it will grow back, the same is true of celery, spring onions and cabbage.

Weigh your options

If you need only a few vegetables or fruits for a recipe or meal, buying a small amount from the salad bar at your supermarket may be cheaper than buying a bag of precut vegetables.

Check it out

Instead of buying a book, why not visit your local library and borrow it.

Service advisory

If you get your car serviced at the dealer, ask to check for any service advisories. You might save on a repair that is covered.

Compare 401 (k) fees

Financial information company, BrightScope features free 401 (K) ratings directory that compares fees among plans. Check it out at brightscope.com/ratings

Tips from NJ Dept of Banking and Insurance May Help Those Filing Insurance Claims

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

An article in today’s (9/1) Trenton Times by Jarrett Renshaw, Statehouse Bureau,¬†talks about information from the NJ Dept. of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) Commissioner, Tom Considine regarding the recent storm and insurance claims.

In a memo on Monday (8/29) the Commissioner stated that “Irene did not generate sustained hurrican-force winds, defined as 74 mph, but the time it got to NJ and told insurers they could not apply the hurricane deductible when calculating how much homeowners should pay for damages.”

So, what does this mean? It means, that homeowners across NJ could save a lot of money. Apparently, hurricane deductibles are much higher than the standard deductible on homeowner insurance policies.¬†According to the article, “The hurricane deductible is often a percentage of the property’s value, ranging from 1 to 4 %… for example, a policy holder whoe home is insured for $200,000 with a 2 % hurricane deductible would have to pay the first $4,000 to repair hurricane damage. But in this case, the homeowner is only responsible for the first $500 to $1,000.”

NJ State Law says a hurricane deductible applies when the National Weather Service measures sustained hurricane winds above 74 mph, Irene’s peak winds were 71 mph, a small difference in mph but a big difference in out of pocket dollars for NJ homeowners who were affected by the storm.

It is good to know when contacting your insurance company, that they have been notified by DOBI that Irene was not classified as a hurricane and therefore you will pay your regular deductible on your homeowners insurance policy and not the higher hurricane deductible.

The link below will take you to the NJ Department of Banking and Insurance Website where you can see more storm related updates or contact them for questions.

http://www.state.nj.us/dobi/division_consumers/insurance/hurricane.htm#after

Do you know how much you need to retire in New Jersey?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

A recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that 43% of workers say they have less than $10,000 in savings. The annual survey, Retirement Confidence Survey, included 1,153 respondents age 25 and older who were employed or retired. 27% indicated they had less than $1,000 in savings. On top of that 24% reported that they had to delay retirement. The survey did not account of the value of homes or defined-benefit pension programs.

They also found that only 69% of workers have reported saving for retirement. Research Director and co-author of the survey, Jack VanDerhei stated that the current economic situation is not the only factor, but that people don’t plan soon enough. The survey also reveals that only 46% of respondents attempted to calculate how much money they’d need in retirement, meaning over half of the respondents have not even begun calculating what they’ll need to retire.

 Planning for retirement sooner rather than later seems like a good idea. But where do you start? It can be a difficult and overwhelming task. You may need to consult a financial planner, but you can also start by looking at the NJ-Elder Economic Security Index.

The NJ Elder Index can help to determine how much an individual will need to retire in your community. This is because the Index shows the cost of living for someone over 65 in all 21 counties in NJ. It is comprised of the costs of housing, food, transportation, healthcare and a miscellaneous category. The Index also reflects the expenses of renting versus owning a home and also the difference in having mortgage or not. The data is also shown for singles as well as couples in each county.

The Statewide Index shows that a single renter in New Jersey needs $25,941 to meet their basic expenses, while a single homeowner with a mortgage would need $33,570. Some findings may point to key elements for retirement planning. Notably, those 65 and over with a mortgage could be paying twice as much as someone who does not have a mortgage. Housing is the biggest expense in an elder’s budget with healthcare being a close second.

An important contact for Seniors to learn about local resources is their county Office on Aging. To find the Office on Aging in your county visit, http://www.njfoundationforaging.org/services.html

Knowing what some of the costs are can help, but certainly the recent difficult economy has had an impact on the ability to save for retirement. Many New Jerseyans are struggling to make ends meet, let alone save for the future.

To view information from New Jersey Elder Economic Security Index follow the links below. If you have questions or need more information, contact us at [email protected] or 609-421-0206.

Elder Index

Policy Brief

County Fact Sheets