Elliott Greenblott | Fraud Watch: Be on a campaign to avoid political fundraising scams

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Many of us have been spending more time at home, a reality not ignored by the con artists. If you are uncertain of this, consider the number of scam telephone calls and emails received in comparison to last summer.

While malware, ransomware and extortion phone calls continue to pose threats, most of what we see focuses on money and data phishing.

At the top of the scam list are political fundraising scams. They pose as political party-, candidate- or issue-oriented fundraising efforts. This latter category includes scams capitalizing on environmental, social, racial, Second Amendment, medical and age-related topics.

Whether by phone or email, the attacks are very sophisticated and designed to trigger an emotional response on the part of the intended victim. A recent scam detected in the Midwest targeted right-to-life advocates by promising to use "donations" to back candidates of like mind.

Another nationwide fraud claimed to work in promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. In both cases, the objective was financial and called on donors to wire money or purchase e-gift cards to support the effort, allowing money to used immediately.

Don't rush to donate

Regardless of how payment is requested, do some homework before donating. Conduct an online check of the organization, contact local or state authorities asking if there are reports of problems with the organization and verify the address or phone number provided.

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Don't rush to donate. Legitimate organizations are "in it" for the long haul, and while they would love a rapid response, they have no problem waiting for you to check them out.

Another somewhat new scam can be categorized as the "Can you do me a favor?" scam. This typically is received as an email from somebody known by the intended victim. The name of the friend appears in the "from" line, and the message simply asks, "Can you do me a favor?" The scammer hopes that you will reply to your friend saying yes.

That's where the scam gets interesting. The criminal emails that he (or she) wants to buy an e-gift card for a relative (wedding gift, graduation gift, birthday gift) but is having a problem accessing an Amazon account: Can you purchase and email an Amazon e-card to a provided address? Of course, the friend will pay you back immediately.

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Once the card is forwarded and received, the scammer disappears, and so does your money. Obviously, your friend knows nothing about it.

Before doing anything, match the sender email address with what you know to be your friend's true address. Check with your friend if you receive this type of request, to ask if it is legitimate. The criminal is counting on your failure to do this simple verification.

Student tests

Soon, students will return to school either in person or virtually. As mentioned recently, parents should act to the protect student personal data that is provided to and from third-party contractors.

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For example, millions of high school students participate in college-related testing programs such as the SAT or ACT. Many take the PSAT to determine eligibility for scholarships.

Ask your child's school counselor about this, with a focus on what information is shared or sold by the test administration company. Don't be surprised if you begin to receive solicitations online or in the mail.

Restricting a testing company like the College Boards from sharing information might be difficult, but the general awareness of the practice is crucial.

Beware of the many "Who's who" promotions claiming to provide exclusive access to scholarships.

Frequently, access to scholarships is not enhanced, and most of the "leads" can be discovered through public student assistance agencies or personal searches. Don't fall victim to services that guarantee scholarship consideration in return for payment of a fee.

Special tip: Take photos with your cellphone? Smartphones provide location and date for every photo. You might wish to protect your privacy by disabling the feature.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He can be reached at egreenblott@aarp.org.


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