When it comes to being scammed, virtually everyone is at risk, said Claudette Henry, the featured speaker at a recent Land O’ Lakes AARP chapter meeting.
Because identity theft and fraud are so pervasive, the AARP has launched the Fraud Watch Network to combat the problem. Last year, an estimated 12.6 million Americans were the victims of identity theft, Henry said, citing AARP materials.
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network aims to help people of all ages, not only members of the AARP, Henry said.
“We’re trying to protect you against phone, email and mail scams,” Henry said. “If you receive a phone call or email from anyone saying that your checking account or bank account or credit card or PayPal, or anything that you do has been compromised, and you need to respond, do not.”
Instead, contact the company that sent the communication to make sure it is legitimate, she said.
“If it is from the bank, they’ll address you by name, not just your email account, or say, ‘Dear Member,’ or anything like that,” Henry said. “If you receive a phone call and it says, ‘To verify your account, press 1.’ Do not do it.”
Another common scam involves messages that say someone won a lottery.
“Anytime you receive information that you’ve won a lottery, you’ve won a prize — if you have to pay taxes up front, or a qualification fee, or a document fee — it’s a scam. Don’t fall for it,” Henry said.
Con artists attempt to get people emotionally involved because that makes them more vulnerable, Henry said. One common ploy involves an email or a call that claims to be from a relative needing help. It’s best to hang up the phone and verify that information from another source.
There are other scams that claim to offer investment opportunities, such as oil and gas stock options, she said. One victim lost $40,000.
“It can happen to anyone,” Henry said.
Some criminals use threats and intimidation to try to get what they want. “The latest scam involves calls or emails that claim they’re from the IRS,” she said. “They’re not going to call or email. They’re going to send you a letter. Don’t be fooled.”
A caller attempted the IRS scam on Steve Dierking of Lutz, who was at the AARP meeting.
“I had the IRS call me a month ago and they said they had audited me over the last seven years. I owed $3,400,” Dierking said. “I had one hour to give it to them. And, if I didn’t, they were sending the sheriff out to pick me up.
“So, I said, ‘I have to get back to you, because I don’t have that cash.’ I called the sheriff,” Dierking told the crowd.
There are persistent scammers, who use harassment to try to get their way.
“The best thing you can do is get on the phone with the authorities,” Henry said. “Put an answering machine on your phone or block your phone calls. If all else fails, change your phone number. Don’t let this happen to you.”
Keep your credit cards and Social Security number in a place where others can’t get to them, she added. Check your credit reports to be sure they are accurate.
“Be real careful about your mail and how you handle your mail. You don’t want to throw stuff out in the trash with information from credit card companies, offers or even your name and address,” Henry said. “Shred the information. Don’t put it out there. People go through your trash trying to get information.”
Also, be careful in returning calls when you don’t recognize the numbers, she said.
“If you don’t know who’s calling you, don’t call them,” Henry advised.
Ginny Sibley, a bank officer for American Momentum Bank, offered this advice: “When you’re traveling, please use a credit card, not your debit card.”
Scammers can do serious damage once they get someone’s checking account number, Sibley said.
“What they do, is they set up an exact time throughout the whole United States and they compromise your number,” she said. “At that moment, they use the cards, the plastic into the machine. You could have five, six transactions at the same time.”
When buying gas, be sure to click the clear button after your transaction, Sibley added.
Robert Brown took that advice a step farther.
“Any time I use my debit or credit card when I get gas, I go inside and swipe it,” said Brown, a independent associate of LegalShield. “I always go inside.”
Protect yourself with these tips from AARP
• Don’t carry your Social Security card
• Shred sensitive information
• Limit the number of credit cards you carry
• Keep copies of your credit cards, front and back, in case they are stolen
• Watch for missing bills
• Monitor your accounts carefully
• Do your homework before making investments
• Review your free credit report once a year
• Do not carry your check card codes or passwords
• Do not choose obvious passwords, such as a birthdate, phone number, consecutive numbers or the like
• If you receive a suspicious email, do not respond to it
• Avoid conducting personal or financial business on shared or public computers or over wireless hotspots
• Protect your mail
• Do not give out personal information to telemarketers
• Check out a charity before donating by going to CharityWatch.org or CharityNavigator.org
Published May 7, 2014