Arm Yourself Against Fraud
Your best weapon against fraud, scams, and identity theft is knowing what to look out for. So, let’s lay down some fraud self-defense knowledge.
Fraud Aimed at Seniors
Seniors are targeted by scammers for many reasons: they have more assets to steal than younger adults, they are less Internet savvy and less likely to research claims made by scammers, and they are sometimes isolated from family who could offer a second opinion on fraudster’s claims. If you have seniors in your family, make sure they know about these common scams:
- Free medical equipment. Shady operators will say they can offer expensive medical equipment for free—including equipment they don’t need. They will ask the targeted person to sign a blank insurance form or give credit card info over the phone.
- Cheap online drugs. Online ads or emails advertise cheap drugs, which are either counterfeit or never arrive after the person gives their credit card information.
- Fake IRS calls. The IRS will never call someone. Period. But scammers use threats of money owed to the IRS and jail time if the person doesn’t pay now. Sometimes they tell the person to pay in gift cards. You can’t pay the IRS in gift cards.
- You must sign up for 'Obamacare' today or pay a penalty. This plays on the same fears of missing out or owing money if immediate action isn’t taken. But again, this isn’t how the Affordable Care Act works, and the government will never call a person to sign them up.
- The free lunch or dinner to learn about a retirement investment or community. A free meal is bait used to lure unsuspecting people into high-pressure sales schemes. The investment product is probably fake—or very risky—and it’s hard to leave the meal unscathed by the aggressive sales’ tactics they use.
- The obituary scam. A caller will claim that a deceased family member owes them a debt, and they will ask survivors to pay it immediately under penalty of a lawsuit.
- Grandchild scam. Someone calls and asks, “Grandpa/ma, guess who this is?” When the person offers a name, the impersonator now pretends to be that person and says they’re stranded or were arrested and need money. Alternatively, the caller may impersonate a police officer and claim the same thing, that they have a loved one in custody and need money for bail.
The best defense against scams like these is to hang up the phone.
There are dozens of telephone scams that pretend to be from your bank, credit union, or other lender; a credit card company; a car dealership; a travel company; a branch of the government; or Publisher’s Clearing House or other sweepstakes company. The call may come from a live person or a recording. In both cases, the message is the same: respond immediately and act fast to avoid fees or a lawsuit, or to take advantage of an offer or claim your million-dollar prize. It’s this pressure to act fast without thorough research and thought that should set off alarm bells.
If you’re in doubt about the legitimacy of the caller, hang up and find the phone number for the business, organization, or government branch on an official website or from some other official correspondence and call them to ask if the call really came from them.
With all of the ways criminals and hackers can attempt to steal your personal information, there are things you can do—for free!—to prevent their success.
Shred any document that has account numbers, your name and date of birth, or tax identification numbers. Credit unions and libraries often have paper shredders to use for free.
Monitor your credit report and credit card statements regularly. Look at each charge on your monthly credit card and checking account statements. Identity thieves will make small “test” charges of a dollar or less to see if you’ll notice. If you don’t, they’ll start making larger charges or withdrawals.
Be familiar with your credit card and other financial statement cycles. If a bill is late, it could have been stolen from your mailbox and your information compromised. Avoid this by going paperless with all of your statements.
Social engineering is when a stranger manipulates someone into giving away personal or confidential information that can then be used for identity fraud. Don’t list your full birthday, phone number, or address on any social networking website, and don’t give this information away to “friends” you meet online.
Lastly, if it’s within your budget, you can pay for credit monitoring services. Companies like Identity Guard, TruCredit, and LifeLock will alert you when a third party requests your credit report, if any significant changes happen on your report, if changes are made to your information, and if new accounts are opened. Some offer ID theft insurance.