How do you protect yourself from fraud, scams, and con artists?
Many of us go through life not knowing that we can easily fall victim to fraud, scams, and con artists. Especially due to the Coronavirus outbreak, ourselves and our families must be braced for it. Elder Americans are highly vulnerable and highly targeted by fraudsters. Con artists target the elder population because often there is shame in reporting fraud, they are very trusting, they have a little savings to fight suspected fraud, and it may take a senior several weeks to realize they were the target. More and more elders are being targeted for their lack of or inadequate understanding of digital technology and the internet. Fraud can be found in many forms such as health care/health insurance, selling of general products, telemarketing schemes, internet schemes, and investment schemes. Identity theft and credit card fraud tend to be part and parcel with all of them.
Unfortunately fraud, scams and con artists will not go away, for every thief caught there are several that got away. Luckily there are ways to protect yourself and knowledge is half the battle. Here are some tips and suggestions on how to protect yourself against these schemes and what to do if you think you’ve been taken advantage of.
• Never throw away credit cards statement, bank statements etc. The safest way is to destroy them using an inexpensive electric paper shredder.
• Never give out your credit card number over the phone unless it is a physical business that you know and trust, like a local restaurant.
• You can get a free copies of your credit report. Remember there are 3 credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. Visit https://www.usa.gov/credit-reports for more details on getting a free credit report that includes all 3 agencies. You can also request by phone by calling 1-877-322-8228
• Always review all statements that come in the mail whether it’s a credit card statement, bank statement, or doctor/hospital statement. There may be extra charges for services that you did not authorize.
• If you are paying for services such as yard work, getting gas or wood delivered for heating, or home remodeling/repair, make sure service is done to your satisfaction before paying.
• Check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general office or visit https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/report-fraud for a list of places to report fraud, including the FTC and FBI.
• If you receive something in the mail that looks “too good to be true” then it probably is. Don’t give in to the mailer on a whim. Have others look into it for you and verify that it’s legitimate.
• If you hear the term “You must act now” you will want to do more research, because it’s probably a telemarketing scam. Most legitimate businesses understand that a consumer may want more time and information and they should be happy to comply.
• Be wary of calls coming from Social Security, The Sheriff's office, the DEA, Medicare, or any other agencies asking for your personal information such as name/address/date of birth, credit card numbers, or social security numbers. In all of these cases they will either send you an official letter in the mail or they will come to your door. You can always ask the caller for their name and phone number and let them know you will return their call. If the business is legit, the caller will be more than happy to supply you with this information.
• If the voice on the line is a computerized voice or an obvious recording, it is most certainly a scam. If it asks you to “Press 1 to be connected” to an agent to resolve the issue, its probably a robocaller scam.
• If the call threatens you, either by stopping your Medicare or Social Security, or threatening you with jail time, it’s a scam
• Don’t keep it a secret. If something is odd have friends, family, or even a caregiver check it out first. When in doubt, call agencies you already trust to verify calls and documents you receive. It could be Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging or a Senior Center among many things.
• Be aware of tax scams. You can always file for tax reassessment yourselves for free, you do not need to pay for a middle man.
• Download and read Money Smart for Older Adults, a great free book from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that can be found at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/documents/2954/201703_cfpb_money-smart-for-older-adults-resource-guide.pdf
These are just a few tips to help you combat fraud, identity theft, and scams. If you have real concerns, you can also contact your local law enforcement agencies to inform them about a situation. Remember, scams and fraud are always changing, so it’s important to stay on guard and aware. “Trust but verify” is a good mantra to live by!
Read more great articles about senior fraud at the following links: