Though we would like to trust people, in this day and age you should have your guard up against scammers.
Threats can come from a knock at your door, a phone call, an email or even a message over social media sites. Most of us think we’re too smart to ever get duped, but just as technology progresses, so do the schemes of criminals.
“The scam artists follow technology. So anything new that comes out, you can pretty much bet the scammers will find a way to use it,” said Julie Wheeler, president of the Better Business Bureau in Roanoke.
And scammers are targeting everyone, from seniors to stay-at-home parents to college students.
Seniors are often scammed by callers posing as their children or grandchildren asking for money to be wired due to an emergency, or by callers offering a free medical alert system.
Wheeler explained, “The medical alert phone calls are calling people and saying that their friend or relative has paid [for them] to have a medical alert system. Then they want you to give them a lot of personal information to get the free system.”
While most scams infiltrate an area and then move on after a week or so, Wheeler said the Roanoke BBB office has been getting calls for about a month reporting this medical alert scam.
Meanwhile, stay-at-home parents are often the targets of work-from-home offers that require a pricey initial investment but promise a big return. Scammers take aim at students looking for work during the summer months. They’ll often post job openings on sites like Craigslist and will gather loads of personal information through fake job applications.
Scam artists are also using social media platforms to reach people. Facebook scammers will copy someone’s Facebook page and then reach out to their entire friends list to try to get money. Wheeler described the process as a new twist on the grandparent scam.
“Privacy settings are really important. You should have everything blocked where only friends can see the information,” she said.
If you sell products on eBay or Craigslist you’re not safe either. After someone offers to buy your merchandise they may send you a check for more than you were asking. Then you’ll receive a follow-up email saying they made a mistake and request that you cash the check and return the difference. In most cases the original check is counterfeit, so in the end you’ve lost the item for sale and the money you refunded.
Even though the scammers have gotten smarter, there are some basic red flags you can look out for in every situation.
First, be wary of an offer that requires you to act quickly. Additionally, if someone is asking for a lot of personal information (like your Social Security number) or bank information, you should think twice. Also do some extra research if the scam claims to be a person or service that requires an immediate wire payment or balance transfer.
If you suspect that you’re interacting with a scammer, Wheeler suggests taking a big breath and doing your homework. Don’t fall for high pressure sales where you must act quickly and remember that if an offer seems too good to be true it probably is. If something is described as free, you shouldn’t have to provide any personal information or banking information to get the deal.
Recovering from scams
Unfortunately, money that has been wired usually can’t be recovered..
However if you have paid for an offer with a credit card and you’re not pleased with the service or suspect fraud, you can dispute the charge. If you did not give any money but did provide a lot of personal information, follow-up with a credit check.
“Check annualcreditreport.com, which is handled by the FTC [Federal Trade Commission]. Each agency is required by law to provide your credit report to you for free once a year,” Wheeler said. “The quicker you find something the easier it is to clean up.”
If you get into the process and haven’t released any personal information or money, end the interaction immediately. You can report scams to the BBB, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the FTC or, if it’s a local individual or group, your local police department.
What scams have you encountered recently? Alert other readers and share your experiences.