Now that the preliminaries of myths and methods have been covered, it’s time to focus on how to prevent being scammed. Although there are seemingly an infinite number of scams and variations, the one thing all scams have in common is they’re based on misrepresentation. The other thing that most scams have in common is that they try to heighten the victim’s emotional state, the slang for which is to put the person “under the ether”, as was discussed in the previous part regarding methods. With all that being said, then, it stands to reason that the methods people can employ to prevent victimization consist primarily of slowing down and verification. Those sound easier than they are, so let’s look at specifics. Truthfully, verification helps to slow things down, and slowing down in and of itself can assist in the verification process.
Frame of Mind Is Vital
In the first part of this series when discussing scam myths, I presented an email that was undeniably a scam. Reading it likely caused a good deal of laughter for many. It was easy to see it was fake through and through–at least for those who are native English speakers and who’ve been online for awhile. I mentioned then that a lot of people have a tendency to think that all scams are like that, and that they themselves therefore could never be scammed. The truth is that in 2021, the FTC reported receiving 2.8 million fraud reports, and that number is likely vastly underreported. Either we have an awful lot of gullible people, or, (and this is the far more likely scenario), some scams can be harder to spot than most people realize. A survey done by Barclay’s of 6000 people found that those who were young and educated were more likely to fall for scams than were other demographics ( ).
The book of Proverbs says “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18). Likely younger folks fall for scams more often because they feel they would absolutely never do so. Hubris is a scammer’s best friend. Stay humble and stay vigilant.
Vigilance is another aspect that warrants a bit of discussion. Those of us who are parents and grandparents have taught our youngsters since before they could actually do so never to talk to strangers. Once we grow bigger and taller, we apparently feel that we’re grown up and therefore big enough and bad enough to do so without restrictions. remember that when someone emails or calls, unless they’re a close friend or family member, you don’t know that person from Adam or Eve, except they’re not wearing fig leaves, and honestly, since you can’t actually see them, you don’t really even know that.
Essentially, when you answer a phone or look at an email, you’re letting that individual into your space. Since the one contacting you and calling themselves Grandma might actually be the big bad wolf, verification becomes paramount.
Vera and Vern’s mantra of, “Be smart, be wise, always verifies” is absolutely quintessential.
The problem is that email headers and caller ID’s can be, and often are, spoofed, and therefore should never be considered reliable verification methods. Our treasured American tenant that a person is innocent until proven guilty is not applicable in this situation. Indeed, they’re an intruder until proven otherwise. It’s not a very pleasant mindset to have to adopt, but it is, unfortunately, a necessary one.
Study the Behaviors of Legitimate Organizations
In this context, it’s helpful to know how the organizations with which you do business conduct themselves. For example, the Social Security Administration says the following:
“Our employees will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or money.
We may call you in some situations, but will never:
• Threaten you.
• Suspend your SSN.
• Demand immediate payment from you.
• Require payment by cash, gift card, pre-paid debit card, internet currency, or wire transfer.
• Ask for gift card numbers over the phone or to wire or mail cash.
• Ask for personal details or banking information to give you a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA).”
Bank of America says:
“While Bank of America may send you a text to validate unusual activity, we will never contact you to request that you send money using Zelle® to anyone, including yourself, or to share a code to resolve fraud. If you receive a request like this, it is likely a scammer trying to trick you.” They also will never call, email, or text you for a verification code they’ve previously sent, ie, for 2-factor authentication. Other banks have similar policies. Check yours.
Absolutely no reputable organization will call you and ask for payment in the form of gift cards, wire transfers, or crypto.
The IRS says:
“The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.” Nor will they request payment in gift cards or crypto. You can learn more at:
IRS Report Phishing
What holds true for the Federal government also holds true for state and local government agencies. Law enforcement agencies will not contact you stating you have a warrant for your arrest and demanding payment, nor would gift cards be acceptable forms thereof.
Lotteries never give out prizes to those who haven’t entered. Also, the vast majority, if not all, reputable lotteries are not conducted online. So if someone calls, emails, or texts you that you’ve won a lottery and asks you to pay money to get your winnings, ignore them and report them.
Obviously there are a zillion-and-a-half organizations out there, and every one of them can’t be covered, but you should learn what to expect from the organizations with whom you conduct business.
It should go without saying, except it doesn’t–a warning about door-to-door solicitors. Many are legitimate business people trying to make a living. They honestly want to provide a service by trimming your trees, taking care of your yard, painting/repairing your home, etc. Unfortunately, there are those who aren’t nearly so honest, and some are downright dangerous, wanting to come into your home to steal or worse. The best advice I can give is not to answer the door to someone you don’t know. Obviously if you’re expecting a delivery, a truck from a reputable shipping company is in your driveway, and a person in the uniform of that company is knocking at your door requesting your signature, that’s an exception, but for the most part, simply don’t answer.
Use Available Tools
If the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, 1 of those is certainly that limiting one’s exposure to a disease greatly decreases our chances of getting it. To that end, it behooves everyone to use the tools available to them to help protect their devices, thereby limiting unwanted intruders.
It’s wise to use an email service provider that does at least a reasonable job of filtering out spam. As with all such tools, these spam filters are not perfect. It’s not uncommon for them to let spam in, so always maintain vigilance. It’s also common for legitimate emails to end up in the spam trap, so check it periodically to ensure you’re not missing any emails you want. Outlook and Gmail have reasonable spam filters in place and are free. Other service providers charge a fee, but may have additional features you may want. A quick search on your favorite search engine regarding best email providers is likely to provide a more than adequate number of suggestions. Read reviews carefully, and see if there’s a trial period if the service is paid.
There are many applications for phones that can either identify and/or block potential scammers. Although caller ID is not always accurate, as has been mentioned previously throughout this series, it can, nonetheless, alert you to the possibility of a scam call. I personally recommend the type of caller ID that displays the name, not just the number. Those calls that display the name as being unavailable or unknown are likely not calls you want. The same applies if only the name of a city and state is displayed. Just do like the song in the movie frozen says: “Let it Go!”.
Another thing folks can do is register for the ”
(do not call registry . This won’t actually help much in terms of screening scammers–I mean, these are criminals, after all, so why would they abide by the law?), but it does prevent you from getting calls from legitimate businesses with whom you don’t have a relationship. There are some exceptions, but, for the most part, it’s pretty clear who can and cannot call you. Registration may take a month, but, after day 31, if you’re getting calls from salespeople out of the blue, you can report them.
There have been some folks who’ve actually collected money from businesses because they willfully violated the do-not-call list, so it’s worth registering your phone there. You can register both your home phone (if you still have 1) as well as mobile phones.
The manufacturers of mobile phones always incorporate settings into their devices to help eliminate spam calls. The IPhone, for instance, has one which you can enable that sends all callers not in your contact list to voice mail. Some may find that a bit extreme though. They also have facilities to identify callers as likely scammers, as well as to block callers you’ve determined you don’t want calling you.
There are applications that have a database of known scammers/spammers which block those calls from reaching your phone. Always check with your phone carrier, as they sometimes partner with one of these application vendors and will therefore provide it to you for free, or at least a greatly reduced price. Cox, for example, uses Nomorobo and provides it free to its phone customers. Cell customers can purchase it on subscription.
and hiya hiya are also very reputable screening apps. Again, none of these is perfect, so vigilance is still required on your part, but they will help eliminate a great number of the scam calls you’d otherwise be receiving.
The next thing to do, especially if you have social media accounts, is to tweak your settings such that only those you want seeing your posts can do so. All these apps have privacy settings, and many permit you to adjust those on a per-post basis. Make certain not to over-share. Wait till after you get back from dinner and dancing to post that you were out, else you might find when you get home that your valuables have disappeared. Also, don’t accept friend requests from those you don’t know. It’s easy to make a fake profile on any social media account.
If you use a dating site, be especially careful. Losses from romance scams in 2021 were $547 million, an 80% increase from just 2020! ( And sadly, as is so often the case with all these scams, this is likely vastly under-reported.
Having thus said, these scammers often contact people on social media like Facebook and Instagram as well. They often express their “feelings” for the scam victim very quickly (maybe too much so), they often say they’re overseas or on an oil rig (somewhere they can’t meet the intended victim), and, once money is requested, they often want gift cards, wire transfers, or crypto. (Sound familiar?)
Many legitimate businesses allow you to specify how you wish to be contacted, especially if there’s some sort of problem. I personally recommend that email be your first choice, text messaging your second, and a phone call your last. Obviously this depends on your particular situation as well as the organization in question (you absolutely should not have your medical reports sent via email, for example), but it’s my feeling that phone calls create an immediacy that just is not generally present with email, making it more difficult to resist a potential scam.
Those who are stressed and/or lonely seem to be more apt to become a scam victim. They may read all their mail, including bulk mail (we’re not supposed to call it junk mail now, but…). Sometimes there are offers of a free meal for the small price of listening to a presentation on x or y or z. It feels kind of attractive–a free meal without much in the way of obligation, not to mention a few hours away from the 4 walls. The sales tactics at these meetings, however, are not necessarily always laid back and low pressure. Additionally, it seems that those who attend these meetings, as well as those who play lotteries and engage in higher risk investments, are more likely to become scam victims. And it wouldn’t be the first time if these attendee lists were sold to others. Go if you feel you must, but the tips regarding making certain you know who you’re dealing with, getting everything in writing and actually studying it, plus getting assistance from trusted professionals still apply if you choose to make a purchase.
Your Best Protection Is Still You
You’ve now, presumably, acquired some tools to keep you from being absolutely inundated with scam calls, emails, and texts. You’ve also adjusted your social media settings and the methods by which organizations with whom you do business should contact you. Hopefully you’ve also thought twice about attending free lunches in exchange for a sales pitch. But there’s still a trickle, and any one of those can cause you to get burned bigtime.
So what can you do?
The first thing to do is to become intimately familiar with how legitimate organizations you interact with or may interact with, do business. You now know, for example, that the Social Security Administration would never threaten to suspend your social security number. So if someone is doing that, hang up! If you get a call from someone saying they’re from the IRS, ask yourself if you’ve recently received a letter from the IRS. If not, slam! If you get an email or text purportedly from them that threatens you or contains some sort of attachment, you know where the delete button is.
The next thing is to trust yourself. If something doesn’t feel right, listen! I recently received a Paypal invoice for a laptop. Problem is, I didn’t order one. But it’s surprising how many would’ve taken that at face value and sent the money, simply because Paypal had sent an invoice. When I was involved in the Zelle scam, some things didn’t feel right to me–there were no emails from Bank of America about an account compromise, for example, but I ignored it.
Especially if you’re on a phone call, take a break. They’ll probably protest that something bad will happen if they’re a scammer. Tell them something bad will really happen if you don’t take that break, ie, you’ve really gotta go to the bathroom really really bad. Call back in 10 minutes or whatever. That’ll give you some time to…
Verifies, as the birds would say. If the call is from your bank, get your bank card, look on the back for the number, and call it.
If an email is saying something’s amiss with an order, go to that company’s website and view your account to see if that is indeed the case.
Speaking of email, always check the sender’s address. If I get a message with subject line of “Welcome to Medicare 2022” but the email address is “info_DJ6UXQ4aOlk@hcrvdeo.samaralove.com”, then yeah–it’s quite likely it has nothing whatever to do with Medicare. Hit the delete key and keep on truckin.
If you’re sending money to someone, and they say they have new financial details, call that person and check it out. If it’s a love interest, and there’s always a reason they can’t meet you, request a video chat. In essence, always ask, “What can I do to verify this?”
Seek the advice of someone you trust, preferably someone very knowledgeable about scams. If you get a pop-up that your computer is malfunctioning, for example, and you’re told to call the number on your screen, restart it if possible. Otherwise, contact a trusted computer professional. The same applies to investments, products with which you lack familiarity–in short, if you don’t understand it, ask for help. If something doesn’t feel right, ask for help. If there’s a love interest, talk with someone and see if they raise concerns. There have, unfortunately, been cases where a parent has disowned their children because they cautioned a love interest was nothing but a scammer. Only when the parent’s bank account was drained did that parent finally understand the truth. But relationships were badly damaged in the process.
This site also should be a helpful resource. Articles as well as “scam buddies” should be able to advise you on possible next steps.
When dealing with a company for large purchases, such as investments, home repairs, etc, get everything in writing, and then actually read it. Make sure the person you’re doing business with is who they say they are and that they’re licensed in your state, if that is a requirement. Investment brokers need to be licensed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Don’t do business with an investment company or broker that isn’t. Again, seek advice from a reputable financial advisor. If doing home or auto repairs, get more than 1 opinion or estimate. Check out any companies you’re thinking of working with through the Better Business Bureau. Also, do a search on the company’s name followed by “review” or “ratings” and see what comes up. And remember, just because someone calling you says they’re calling from Business X doesn’t necessarily mean it’s so. Get their name, hang up, get Business X’s number from their website, call them back, and ask for the person you ostensibly spoke to.
Don’t ever buy a home or auto repair warranty from someone contacting you out of the blue. If you need a home or auto warranty, ask a realtor or mechanic if there are companies they’d recommend. Check on your favorite search engine for auto or home repair warranty companies in your area, study the reviews, and check with the Better Business Bureau.
Don’t ever send merchandise or money on behalf of someone you don’t personally know–actually it’s not a good idea to send money on behalf of someone, period. It can create all kinds of tax problems (you’ve received money, after all), and a person could actually knowingly or unknowingly be involved in laundering money or being a money or contraband mule, which means they’re sending money or merchandise so the original source can’t be traced. Just don’t!
It’s not a good idea to make any large purchases quickly. Wait at least 24hr before committing your money to anything. If someone tries to push you, run!
These tips are certainly not exhaustive, but should provide some good general guidelines. Much more will be discussed about protecting yourself in regards to the various specific categories of scams. Suffice it to say that you should always do your due diligence. Make sure you’re really dealing with Grandma, and not someone in her clothes who howls at the full moon–& likes Grandma for dinner. Limit your exposure to scammers. “Be smart, be wise, always verifies!” And remember, your best protection is you.