With tax season in high gear, there’s another industry that’s hard at work: identity thieves and scammers.
Unfortunately, scams are getting all too common and, let’s be honest, sometimes these people are pretty good at what they do. They catch us by surprise and hit us with situations that make us extremely reactive.
Here’s an example.
I once had a client who received a scam call from someone pretending to be her grandson. The call came from his phone number and sounded like his voice. The “grandson” said he had been in an auto accident and was okay but needed her to send him money quickly or he was going to jail.
Fortunately, my client called her son (the grandson’s dad) who happened to be near his phone and answered her call. She told him that his son had been in an accident and that she was going to send the caller money when he called her back. The son immediately called his son and found out everything was a hoax designed to trick my client into sending money. Everything was so realistic that the son actually had a hard time convincing his mom that this was not a legitimate call from her grandson. She could not understand how the call came from her grandson’s phone, knew her name, and sounded like him. Fortunately, this scam was averted.
Scams Don’t Just Cause Financial Harm
When it comes to being taken advantage of, it’s bad enough when we lose money – but often the damage goes deeper than that. In my client’s case she felt violated and, according to Psychology Today, “people often feel foolish or experience frustration after being scammed. As a result, victims may not want to share what has happened to them, due to feelings of shame, or the worry that their adult children may feel the need to take power of attorney over their finances, leading to a loss of independence. Thus, many will bottle up what has happened, leading to isolation and a sense of helplessness.”
It's also important to note that while scammers tend to target older adults because they likely have more assets and might not be as tech-savvy as the younger generation, this type of thing can happen to anyone. Having open conversations with friends and family about any scams you’ve heard about might help others feel they can share with you should something happen.
How to Avoid a Scam
The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips to avoid being taken advantage of:
- Block unwanted calls and text messages.
- Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Honest organizations won’t call, email, or text to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
- If you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Instead, contact them using a website you know is trustworthy. Or look up their phone number. Don’t call a number they gave you or the number from your caller ID.
- Resist the pressure to act immediately. Honest businesses will give you time to decide. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.
- Use extreme caution when dealing with anyone you’ve met online. Scammers use dating websites, Craigslist, social media, and many other sites to reach potential targets. They can quickly feel like a friend or even a romantic partner, but that is part of the con for you to trust them.
- Know how scammers tell you to pay. Never pay someone who insists you pay with cryptocurrency, a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram, or a gift card. And never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
- Never send money via gift card or wire transfer to someone you have never met face-to-face.
- Be cautious about what you share on social media. Consider only connecting with people you already know. Check the privacy settings on all social media and online accounts. Imposters often get information about their targets from their online interactions and can make themselves sound like a friend or a family member because they know so much about you. Then, update and change passwords to passphrases on a regular basis on all online accounts. Protect yourself from fake social media accounts.
- Double-check your online purchase is secure before checking out. Look for the “HTTPS” in the URL (the extra s is for “secure”) and a small lock icon on the address bar. Better yet, before shopping on the website, make certain you are on the site you intended to visit.
- Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
I also recommend using password protection tools that make accessing your personal information even more difficult.
How a Financial Advisor Can Help
Due to our cyber training and continuing education classes that focus on recognizing and preventing fraud, we are happy to serve as a sounding board for clients who may have questions about potential fraud events that they may encounter. Our hope is that we may be able to pass on some of our acquired knowledge on this topic to our clients through our website, blogs, email newsletters, and future educational seminars.