Are you tired of falling victim to scams? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many bright and savvy individuals, especially those from older generations, have found themselves in the same situation. The pressure to make a quick decision can be overwhelming, but deep down, we always know when we’ve made the wrong choice.
Scammers are incredibly creative, coming up with a variety of tactics to deceive their victims. From government imposters to fake emergency calls targeting grandparents, uncollected debts of deceased persons, and online scams involving investments, romance, and sweepstakes, their list of schemes seems endless.
One alarming aspect is that scammers often impersonate legitimate sources like charities, banks, or government agencies. However, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice red flags such as typos, incorrect grammar, spelling errors, or suspicious facts.
Protecting your personal information should be your top priority. Never share sensitive data like usernames, passwords, or one-time user codes, as doing so inadvertently gives scammers access to your bank account or even your identity. To add an extra layer of security, consider setting up multifactor authentication if it’s available.
According to the FBI, fraud schemes tend to increase following high-profile disasters like the recent fires in Maui. If you find yourself in such a situation, be extra cautious, as scammers prey on victims in times of distress.
If your home has been damaged and requires repairs, it’s vital to thoroughly vet any contractors you’re considering hiring. Before signing a contract, ask for their contractor’s license number and verify their insurance and bonding with the Contractors State License Board. Don’t assume their license is valid. Additionally, bear in mind that in California, the initial deposit for a contractor should not exceed 10% of the total cost of the job or $1,000, whichever is less, even for projects like swimming pools.
When it comes to donating to charities or organizations, be cautious if they request cash, gift cards, virtual currency (e.g. Zelle or Venmo), cryptocurrency, or wire transfers. These types of payment methods should raise a red flag, as there’s a high likelihood of fraud. If you do decide to give, make sure to verify the organization’s legitimacy and use a check or credit card for payment.
Keep in mind that genuine charities usually have websites ending in .org, not .com. Beware of organizations with copycat names or ones that sound similar to reputable charities. Also, be skeptical of newly established organizations claiming to help victims of recent disasters.
If you receive a call from an unfamiliar number, don’t hesitate to hang up. It’s worth noting that the IRS will not contact you via phone. They communicate through letters in cases where they need to reach out.
When skimming through emails or texts, we tend to rush and do it quickly. However, it’s crucial to refrain from opening links, attachments, emails, or text messages from unknown senders. If you feel the need to follow up, look up the phone number in a phone book or online. Never rely on the information provided in the email, text, or letter to validate the legitimacy of the solicitation.
Another important tip is to never deposit a check from an unfamiliar business or person into your bank account. Scammers may give you a check claiming they overpaid you by mistake and then ask for some of the funds back. However, the check they provide will be fraudulent, resulting in your bank returning it due to insufficient funds.
If you’ve fallen victim to fraud or experienced a negative business encounter, it’s crucial to report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can contact the FTC by calling 1-877-382-4357 or by filling out a report on their website at www.ftc.gov/scams. The FTC provides resources to help you make wise donations and avoid scams.
As suggested by the FTC, before donating to a specific charity, conduct a search with the charity’s name and keywords like “complaint,” “review,” “rating,” or “scam.” Research all charitable organizations of interest through the appropriate links provided on the FTC website. They offer links to the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and Candid.
Moreover, you can check the IRS website for Tax Exempt Organizations to determine if your donation is tax-deductible and if the charity is legitimate.
It’s important to remember that anyone can make a poor quick decision when caught off guard. However, incorporating simple safety practices into your daily life can help minimize the risk of falling victim to scams. Follow these basic security measures:
- Hang up immediately when receiving unwanted solicitations over the phone.
- Avoid sharing personal information, such as your social security number, passwords, or bank details, with unknown individuals.
- Do not make payments to unfamiliar individuals using cash, gift cards, or virtual currency like Zelle or Venmo. Stay away from wire transfers and cryptocurrency transactions.
- Collect your mail daily and shred any documents instead of throwing them in the trash.
- Before opening emails or texts, verify their legitimacy. Never open attachments in emails from unfamiliar senders.
- Review your bank and credit card statements monthly to ensure accurate charges.
- Annually review your credit report and check for any new accounts you didn’t open. You can get a free credit report at freecreditreport.com.
Remember, if you don’t personally know someone who contacts you via letter, email, text, social media, or phone call and they request your personal or bank account information, treat it as a threat. Immediately consider the solicitation suspicious and act accordingly. It may feel uncomfortable to be suspicious of others, but it’s the best way to avoid becoming a scam victim.
Teri Parker is a vice president for CAPTRUST Financial Advisors. With over two decades of experience in financial planning and investment management, she’s dedicated to helping individuals protect their financial well-being. Feel free to reach out to her via email at [email protected].
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