According to the FTC, consumers lost a record-high $1.9 billion to scammers last year in the U.S. Losses this year are projected to be well over $2 billion. Those are a couple of many eye-opening statistics in the FTC report. Surprisingly, people between the ages of 25 and 40 years old are the most likely to be scammed, but it’s the seniors who stand to lose the most. Their losses average more than double those of other victims.
Scammers are relentless and heartless. They are cunning and have all the latest tools to reach out to you and separate you from your money — email, texts, robocalls, social media and still even in-person, face-to-face contact. They have hundreds of different schemes and tactics at their fingertips.
But here’s the good news. There are three simple rules you can use that will certainly negate their efforts:
• Rule No. 1: Slow down! Be calm. Taking your time and asking questions allows you to avoid being rushed into a bad decision. Con artists try to get you to set aside your better instincts by scaring or intimidating you into acting immediately. For example, a scammer might say, “This is the IRS. Your income taxes are in serious default. You must pay them within the hour. If you do not, the sheriff will be sent to arrest you.”
• Rule No. 2: Spot check! Hang up the phone, then research the agency, organization or bank and contact them directly to investigate the truthfulness of the call. For example, a scammer may say, “This is Amazon calling to let you know there is a problem with your latest delivery. We want to refund your money, but we need to verify the number on the credit card associated with the account in order to apply the refund directly to the card.”
• Rule No. 3: Stop! Don’t send! No government agency or reputable business demands payment on the spot through a phone call, and no lottery or sweepstakes will make you pay fees to claim the prize. Beware of unusual methods of payment demanded. For example, a scammer may say, “You have won $2 million in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. To claim your prize, you must send us 10 $200 gift cards to pay taxes and fees.”
Here are a couple of examples of how you may apply these rules to combat common scams:
• The Grandparent Scam: You get an urgent phone call from your “grandson” saying he has been arrested at an out-of-state party where drugs were found. He needs you to immediately wire bail money to the authorities.
Apply Rule No. 1 by keeping calm. Do not set aside your better judgment. Be rational and institute Rule No. 2 by double-checking his whereabouts, calling him at his phone number or contacting his parents or siblings. Keeping Rule No. 3 in mind, never pay with a gift card, wire transfer or Bitcoin. Reputable organizations and agencies accept payments by check or credit card.
• The Romance Scam. If you have been in an online or long-distance relationship, remember Rule No. 1 if your love interest suddenly needs you to send them money. Slow down and think rationally, no matter how sincere the story. Exercise Rule No. 2 by researching the person, doing a Google search for their name or photo to verify they are who they say they are. Remember Rule No. 3. Stop! Never send money to someone you have not met in person and don’t know well. If the request for money is to be sent via a gift card or wire transfer, it is a scam.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.