Who’s Looking for You?

Mike and I recently took a Fraud Protection Workshop co-sponsored by AARP and Triad (a local cooperative of Law Enforcement and Social Service Agencies). Although it left me feeling as exposed as when wearing a hospital gown that ties in the back, I do think it’s worthwhile for all of us to become more aware of the creative cons out there designed to separate us from our money and personal identity.

The key to defeating these demons, who are disproportionately targeting seniors, is to not give them opportunity (by becoming aware of their clever approaches) and by reporting incidents of fraud when they happen (don’t be embarrassed; it happens to everyone!).

Wherever you live, a scammer is looking for you; find the scams active in your area on this map. In North Carolina, report fraud and scams to the Secretary of State’s office at www.sosnc.gov. In Asheville, Buncombe County, NC, contact the Sherrif’s Office: 60 Court Plz, Asheville, NC 28801, (828) 250-4503. In Henderson County, NC, anyone interested in obtaining more information concerning identity theft, scams or scheduling a presentation, can contact Sergeant Duane Cannon at 828-697-4596 Ext 4930.

Here’s a Smartphone Scam Golf Game you can play to easily learn a bit more about protecting yourself when you use your smartphone.

In spite of all the web-based apps on our lovely handhelds, the primary way many of us use our phones is still making and receiving phone calls (imagine that!). FBI.GOV tells us that if you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations. For more information and tips to avoid these scams please visit the Telemarketing Fraud webpage.

For valuable guidelines on avoiding consumer phone scams, check out these from the Federal Trade Commission.

It is very difficult to get your money back if you have been cheated over the telephone. Before you buy anything by telephone, remember:

  • Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. Legitimate businesses understand that you want more information about their company and are happy to comply.
  • Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But beware—not everything written down is true.
  • Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. However, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.
  • Obtain a salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number before you transact business. Some con artists give out false names, telephone numbers, addresses, and business license numbers—verify the accuracy of these items.
  • Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
  • Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question: “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?”
  • Don’t pay in advance for services; pay only after they are delivered.
  • Be wary of companies that want to send a messenger to your home to pick up money, claiming it is part of their service to you. In reality, they are taking your money without leaving any trace of who they are or where they can be reached.
  • Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
  • Before you receive your next sales pitch, decide what your limits are—the kinds of financial information you will and won’t give out on the telephone.
  • Be sure to talk over big investments offered by telephone salespeople with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor. It is never rude to wait and think about an offer.
  • Never respond to an offer you don’t understand thoroughly.
  • Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
  • Be aware that your personal information is often brokered to telemarketers through third parties.
  • If you have been victimized once, be wary of persons who call offering to help you recover your losses for a fee paid in advance.
  • If you have information about a fraud, report it to state, local, or federal law enforcement agencies.