Sign up for scam alerts: Educate yourself to avoid fraud
The fight against fraud, scams and con artists is a continuous struggle. Regular readers of this column have seen reports on over 40 different attacks ranging from what seem almost amateur efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service to sophisticated schemes carried out by impersonating family members or friends in desperate situations or by creating fraudulent romantic relationships.
These efforts appear in the mail using elaborate official-seeming documents, impassioned telephone calls, sincere-like door-to-door offers, and well-crafted email messages and web pages.
There is bad news and good news.
The bad news — scams are becoming more sophisticated and appearing more frequently. The good news — you can avoid becoming a victim with education and the adoption of some critical behaviors.
Here are a few places to visit online to expand your education:
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service — uspis.gov. The USPIS website provides a wide range of information that goes well beyond postal fraud. In addition, there is a link that can be used to report crimes.
- The FBI ic3.gov. While primarily a vehicle to report computer crime, the online press room contains press releases identifying recent criminal activity. Additional information can be found fbi.gov/scams-and-safety.
- The Federal Trade Commission ftc.gov. It can be used to access online and print information that covers most areas of consumer fraud. The FTC also serves as the primary authority to which to report identity theft. The FTC home page also provides access to obtaining copies of credit reports, the Do Not Call registry and consumer fraud alerts. A second FTC website provides even more information: ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
States provide fraud protection information and reporting for residents, too.
In Massachusetts, information is located and fraud reports can be filed at 617-727-8400 or mass.gov/get-consumer-support.
Given that fraud and scams are constantly evolving, registering for fraud alerts will keep you current on scams. The following organizations provide consumer information and registration for alerts:
- AARP Fraud Watch Network aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork,
- Better Business Bureau bbb.org/scamtips,
- Federal Trade Commission consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts,
- National Consumers League fraud.org,
With the education piece in place, the next step is the adoption of critical behaviors. Government agencies and fraud awareness specialists suggest the following:
1.) Learn to spot impostors — government agencies, banks, and other businesses will not use insecure communications to request or collect information. Hang up if you get an email or phone call asking you to verify information and use verifiable contact information to communicate.
2.) Do online research to verify contact information.
3.) Don't believe caller ID. Criminals use technology to mask and impersonate phone numbers. Allow calls to go to voice mail when you are not certain about who is calling.
4.) Hang up immediately on robo-calls. Just continuing to listen puts you at risk for more calls.
5.) Be skeptical of free offers. Often a free offer ties you to a future purchase or a fee.
6.) Never make payments with gift or cash cards and don't wire money to unknown individuals. Using a credit card for on-line purchases provides safety.
7.) Beware of any payments requiring you to wire money back for any reason. These are scams.
8.) Avoid rushed decisions. Take your time and don't fall for offers calling for immediate payment. Losing an opportunity is better than losing your money.
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He produces a feature CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, VT. Questions or comments? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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