On Tuesday, September 12th, Nikki Tobenski and Ashley Ward of Iroquois Federal gave an informational presentation on scams, what they are, why they work, the different types of scams, warning signs to watch for, and how to build your defenses.
First, they defined a scam as a “trick” a con artist plays on an unsuspecting victim. Why? Well, of course to extort money! Con artists are very good at what they do, often offering a plausible, quite convincing story coupled with a tempting offer to persuade people to make choices leading to the con artist getting the victim’s money and/or identity.
One might ask, how do they find victims? There are a variety of ways. Maybe your contact information was purchased, or they prowled your social media accounts, or quite sometimes, by infiltrating groups you belong to. They even have the nerve to go door-to-door, hoping to find a victim.
Scammers are highly skilled at their trade. They will appeal to emotions such as sympathy, fear, or loneliness. These scammers try to never take “no” for an answer. Most often, they insist on secrecy. The last thing they want you to do is check with your family members or your bank for advice or to confirm their story. They also count on vulnerable victims.
So, how do you protect yourself? It is important to know a scam when you see or hear one. Some of the more popular scams today fall in these categories.
Giveaways: winning a prize or lottery. These letters, emails, or calls often announce you’re a winner! It will require an immediate response and sometimes request payment upfront so that they can send your winnings. Another is a free vacation, but your free trip requires a monetary payment to make your reservation.
Sweetheart: I cannot tell you how many widowed surgeons who “love” my profile photo or post that they want to meet me on social media! They will often ask you to ‘friend” them because, for some reason, they cannot “friend” you. They target a population of those grateful for the attention. Make sure you have your social media accounts set up as “private!” If you don’t know how ask for help. We have all asked for help here and there when it comes to computer technology.
Family Imposter: Someone will call and say, “Grandma” or “Grandpa,” “I need your help!” Personally, my family has a code word, which might be forgotten in a real emergency, but ask questions only your family will know. Remember, they’re very good at this. Call your family to check the validity of the call before acting. These callers never seem to want the police involved. That is a red flag! They’ll try to convince you it has to be your secret!
Government Imposter: This can be fake stories about a failure to show up for jury duty, back taxes, a Social Security or Medicare suspension pending your personal information verification. DO NOT use the number provided to make a call to check on this status. Look up the number yourself and make the call. They will often give you a 24-hour deadline to “make your payment,” often by purchasing gift cards, wire transfer, bankers check, or even cryptocurrency! Both Nikki and Ashley stated when you withdraw large sums of money from their bank, they will ask you what it is for…They are not trying to be nosey. They want to be sure you are safe and not being taken advantage of by a scammer. This practice alone has prevented scams from happening.
Tech Support: These scams also come in many forms. Some begin with pop-up warnings with a fake message and a number to call. DO NOT call the number provided. If you think you have an issue, look up the number yourself to verify. It was recommended to shut down your computer ASAP if you suspect this scam to protect your accounts. Other scams of this nature begin with a phone call from Google, Apple, or Microsoft to get you to allow them remote access to your computer to “fix the problem.” DO NOT give remote access to your computer.
Again, shut down your computer quickly to protect your accounts. Their goal is to get your money and access your personal information.
Charities: While we all try to be generous to those in need, scammers use that compassion to get you to donate to their cause. Be mindful of who you donate to. Google the company make an informed decision. If the request is on social media, make sure it is not a fake request from a legit charity. If the Facebook page doesn’t have a lot of followers, pictures, etc., it may just be a ghost site mirroring a great charity. Remember, scammers will play on your sympathies to provide immediate support (financially) to myriad causes. Sometimes, they will ask on behalf of an actual charity; however, the money will never reach the intended cause.
Investment tips or deals: Let’s always remember. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!” If these investments are touted as “risk-free” or “above average return,” that should send up a red flag. We have many ways to invest locally. Find someone you trust and forego anything that seems tempting. Ask friends for referrals to a licensed broker or registered investment adviser.
Contractor: These people will often solicit a job by pointing out an “urgent” problem. They will ask for up-front payment in cash. They may need money to buy the materials needed for your project. They might begin the job but claim it’s much more serious than initially thought; then of course, they will demand more money. Often, they disappear after the initial payment is made, or they will do a partial job, then disappear. These scams all have warning signs, immediate action, money up front, and insist on secrecy, such as, I‘m giving you a deal, but please don’t tell anyone else; I can’t do this for everyone. Keep in mind the Village of Bourbonnais requires contractors to be licensed and registered with the village.
Why Target Senior Citizens? Senior citizens seem to be a target because we have a regular income, a lifetime of savings, a tendency to be more trusting and willing to listen to their spiel, and we are often eager to help one in need. So, be cautious or even rude if confronted with someone who communicates with you and wants personal information or your money. Make sure you say no or hang up if you begin to feel those red flags starting to go up.
What Are Some Basic Protections? Register your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (www.donotcall.gov) to limit calls; Limit junk mail by visiting DMAchoice.org; use anti-virus software on our computers; don’t answer surveys on social media that ask for information which may expose personal information a scammer can use to trick you; and be very, very careful when you click on a link, or open emails/directed messages. Again, check your privacy settings on social media accounts and limit the information you provide.
One other suggestion made was to consider turning off your credit report with Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. All three credit bureaus allow you to create an account and freeze your credit. If someone pretends to borrow money as you, a credit report cannot be pulled, and you will be notified. You can turn it back on if you ever need to. If you don’t want to do that, you can get your free credit report once a year. This way, you can see if there are any accounts in your name you are unaware of. Just visit freecreditreport.com to request your report.
If you act quickly enough, you can divert the scam before you lose money. Call your bank and the police. If either is unaware of a new scam, it’s more difficult for them to help others prevent more victims from falling prey.
Know that if you are a victim of a scam, please don’t be embarrassed. Very smart, capable, and savvy people have been scammed. Maybe your story, if shared, can help someone else learn enough not to be taken.
Have you been scammed?