Have the past twelve months have been challenging? You bet! In the blink of an eye, many of our interactions have gone from in person to over the phone or online. As a result, scams have increased exponentially. Stimulus checks, tax refunds and continued economic distress continue create new opportunities for scammers. You know the old phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” With scams, however, we’re not only affected financially; it feels terribly personal, too.
I present webinars about scams often and received an email from an attendee who had lost a parent this past fall. Besides having to navigate their personal loss, she had to protect the surviving parent from scams once the announcement became public. Fortunately, this person already knew the scammers would try something and prepared her mom to ignore the calls. But the scammers still almost got personal info, based upon timing of legitimate calls from the Social Security Administration. She wrote to me, “It is so sad that people take advantage of others in these situations.”
She is not alone. The FTC fielded more than 356,000 complaints related to COVID-19 and the stimulus, resulting in $341 million in fraud loss. More than 50% of fraud reports resulted in a loss, and the median fraud loss was $318.
COVID-19 vaccine scams are now out in full force. Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann says, “If someone is trying to sell you a vaccine … If someone offers to ship it to you … If they ask for your credit card, bank account or Social Security number, that’s a scam.” The vaccine is free and isn’t being sold by any legitimate providers. Providers will never ask vaccine recipients for credit card, bank account or Social Security information. There are also fake claims of people representing Medicare or a provider charging a fee to make appointments or to put you on a waiting list to get vaccinated.
So, what’s a person to do? It’s time to outsmart the scammers!
Know the ABCs of Scams
Any of these things, whether done by phone or email, are red flags.
- A – Asking for gift cards as payment, or for any personal information like your bank account or credit card number, birthdate, Social Security number, passwords or PINs. The Social Security Administration, IRS, other government agencies or non-profits will NEVER call or email you first and ask you for your personal information or for payment without written proof.
- B – Becoming aggressive or threatening; pretending to be from an agency or “tech support.” Scammers want you to feel pressured to make a quick decision. If you answer the phone and they start in on their scam, you can always hang up and do some research first. Legitimate businesses will always be okay with you calling back and verifying who they are.
- C – Contacting you first and out of the blue. In the case of the COVID-19 scam above, you can always call back your nurses’ line to confirm whether the call is legitimate if you aren’t sure. This FTC handout is also a good reminder. Another common out-of-the-blue call is someone pretending to be a family member in an emergency and asking for money ASAP. Put the person on hold, and call another family member directly to confirm it’s real. Usually, it’s not.
Don’t Trust Strange Emails or Strangers Online
- Don’t share personal info or send money to people online that you’ve just met. Romance scams are on the rise again.
- Keep travel plans to yourself; don’t share them on social media.
- Use the picture below to help you recognize fraudulent e-mails. Don’t click on any links unless you were expecting something.
Reduce Your Exposure to Potential Scams
- Block robocalls on your phone. The FTC has a great list of tools and resources to help you do this.
- Register your phone on the Do Not Call list.
- Remove your name from prescreened offers on OptOutPreScreen.com and DMAChoice.org ($2-3 processing fee charged – good for ten years).
- Create an online account with the Social Security Administration.
- Research informed delivery with USPS to see if it’s available and helpful to you.
- Prevent new accounts from being opened by freezing your credit. Note: this will prevent anyone, including yourself, from opening a new account.
Can we ever be fully protected? I wish, but unfortunately that’s not possible. However, with these steps, we reduce the risks of being scammed as best as we can.
Reduce Your Loved Ones’ Exposure to Potential Scams
Please check in on your loved ones, especially older adults, and see how they are doing.
- Ask them if they’ve been getting weird calls lately or who they’ve been talking to.
- Inform them of the ABCs of scams so they know the red flags.
- Report scammers to the FTC and your state attorney general’s office. (Find your state’s AG here.)
By staying alert, we will all get through this scam season together.
Scams affect people of all ages and backgrounds, and many may be too embarrassed to say anything. If you or a loved one has been a victim of a scam, call LSS Financial Counseling at 888.577.2227 for assistance, or go to www.identitytheft.gov. We are here to help guide you through the process.
Author Kim Miller is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.