An Anti-Scam Tutorial—Part II
This is the concluding portion of this year’s article on scams.
Lose Your Money by Phone
Scam: Someone phones you, claiming to be a relative or the friend of a relative. There is an emergency and they need money immediately. Often they want to pick up the money in person, or have a “friend” pick it up. They may display knowledge about you or your relatives. However, such knowledge is fairly easy to acquire through outside sources or even by your responses to their non-specific statements. (That last is a technique also used by fraudulent psychics; it’s called “a cold reading”.)
Countermeasure: Unless you’re already well acquainted with the caller, it’s a good bet that the call is a scam. If you don’t know the relative, ask for a number that you can call back. Check it against the phone book. In any case, it’s best to refuse.
GENERAL RULES: Whenever you do loan money to someone: (1) Give the money by check so that you can trace its ultimate destination; any insistence on cash is a red flag. Annotate the back of the check above the endorsement line, to show its purpose, and include the word “Loan”. Have them sign below what you’ve written. (2) If they claim that they need the money for a specific purpose such as rent, mortgage or car payment, give the money directly to the landlord or lending institution. (3) If you must give cash, INSIST on a receipt. If you’re giving the money to a business, the receipt should be on the business’s letterhead, not just a handwritten note.
Scam: You receive a phone call from someone claiming that they had spoken with you several months ago about an attractive investment, and that you had told them you could not invest then but that you would invest in a few months.
Countermeasure: Get a return number, then notify the police. This scam is usually aimed at people of very advanced age or who are known to have cognitive problems. The con artist is hoping that your memory is faulty and that you will take their word for the prior conversation and your promise.
GENERAL RULE: Trust your memory rather than the word of a stranger.
Scam: You are contacted by someone in a foreign country. They say that they need to transfer a large amount of money to the United States, and that if you allow them to transfer the money through your bank account, you will get a very large commission.
In an alternate form of this scam, they offer to send the money to you directly, but they require a “good faith” payment from you first.
Countermeasure: Don’t give them your bank account number. In fact, don’t give them any information. Don’t give them any “good faith” money. Report the matter to the police.
GENERAL RULE: Don’t let greed cloud your common sense.
Scam: You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a worker at your credit card company or your bank. They tell you that they are reviewing your account and need to verify some information, such as the credit card number and expiration date.
Countermeasure: Offer to call back with the information. If they decline to give you a number at which you can return their call, hang up. If they do give you a number, make a note of it but don’t use it. Instead, call the number you already have for the company, and verify the identity of whoever called you. If you find, as you almost always will, that the call was fraudulent, give the number you wrote down to the company and the police.
GENERAL RULE: Never give out sensitive information over the phone (for instance Social Security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers) unless you have placed the call and it is to a known entity. Even then, there is never a legitimate need for someone else to have your ATM password unless you are unable to visit the ATM in person and have asked someone else to withdraw cash for you. That person should only be someone you know well and trust, because you are giving them unlimited access to your bank account.
Scam: You receive a collect phone call from someone who claims to be a repairman or other employee of the phone company.
Countermeasure: Don’t accept it. No legitimate phone company employee will ask you to accept a collect call from them.
GENERAL RULE: Don’t accept a collect call from anyone you don’t know.
Scam: Someone calls for donations to a charity with a name similar to a recognized charity, or with a name that indicates a laudable purpose, such as support of the police. They may ask you to donate by credit card.
Countermeasure: Tell them to send their appeal by mail. If they give you some song-and-dance about why they can’t do that, you know the charity is fraudulent. They won’t send anything by mail because that will expose them to prosecution for mail fraud.GENERAL RULES: (1) Make donations only in response to mail solicitations. (2) Don’t give your credit card information to someone who has phoned you.>
Scam: You are told that you’ve won a sweepstakes or other contest (which you never entered). In order to get the proceeds, you need to send a fee that covers “processing” or some other vague operation.
Countermeasure: Get a return number, then report the matter to the police. If you didn’t enter the contest, you haven’t won anything. Also, winners of genuine contests are not asked for processing fees
With the announcement of the interim Medicare Prescription Drug Discount cards, some new scams have appeared. We describe the most frequent one below:
Scam: You are phoned, or someone comes to your door, and you are told that if you give them your social security number, and bank information or credit card number, they will register you for the discount card. In some cases, they will even know some of your private health history.
Countermeasure: Slam the door, or get a return number and report the matter to the police. At the very least, the scam artist wants to make false Medicare claims in your name. At worst, they want to drain your bank account.
This article is based on information from anti-scam organizations, from pieces in newspapers and magazines, and from the admirable web site www.snopes.com.
W. A. Shapiro