My phone rings. I check the number and the caller, and I hang up. It’s a scam.
I get a text message. I see who it’s from and I delete it without even reading it. It’s a scam.
The scammers are out in force, and they are relentless in their efforts to separate you from your hard-earned money. They may claim to be from the IRS, they may claim to have a business refund for you, they may claim to be from a cable company you don’t subscribe to and that today is the last day to take advantage of their 50%-off deals.
Brandon King of Home Security Heroes recently released an advisory, especially aimed at seniors, telling how to recognize and avoid scams.
He says that everyone, and especially seniors, should watch out for:
Someone claiming to be a grandchild calls (watch out if he says “Guess who!” — it’s a way to discover the name of someone to pretend to be) and says he needs a substantial amount of money right now.
He’s in trouble, perhaps. His car has broken down. He needs money for his rent. And he’s usually embarrassed, so he doesn’t want the grandparent to tell his parents.
I know a very smart and accomplished woman who fell for this. She even knew about the scam, but the caller claimed to be a child, not a grandchild. The fake son was supposedly calling from the police station after he had been involved in a drunk-driving accident, and he needed money to pay his bail. She gave her credit card number but almost immediately thought better of it. She called the credit card company and canceled the charge.
She could do that because she used a credit card. The scammer had been insistent that she use a cashier’s check or cash. That’s another sign of a scam.
Widows and widowers are often lonely and crave the excitement of romance. They meet people, typically online, who woo them.
They say the right things, they act the right way, they flatter and compliment and charm their victims. They may represent themselves as successful — but they somehow don’t have access to their money right now. They ask their victims for a temporary loan or two; maybe a check, maybe gift cards. When they have extracted all the money they can, they disappear into the night.
False charity scams
Who doesn’t like puppies? Puppies are in trouble, and if you give us enough money we will be able to help these poor puppies.
Or it’s the victims of a flood or earthquake or some other natural disaster. Perhaps it’s a social cause you believe in, or a political pitch.
These scams can be particularly hard to determine because legitimate charities and organizations make these solicitations, too. The best way to avoid falling prey to such a scam is to avoid giving money over the phone or through an email.
The IRS has a searchable list of tax exempt organizations that separates the real non-profit charities from the fake. If the charity is legitimate, send money through its website or to its official address.
Some scammers call and pretend to be with the IRS or the Social Security Administration. They say you owe a great deal of money and are certain to be arrested if you don’t pay it immediately.
A sense of urgency, the fear that something will happen if you don’t comply immediately, is often a feature of scams.
The IRS says it never contacts taxpayers by email, texts or social media channels. The Social Security Administration says it generally does not contact people unless they have requested it or have ongoing business with them, and never threatens arrest or legal action.
Sweepstakes and lottery scams
You’ve just won the lottery! How exciting! You might not even remember entering it, but what the heck — who is going turn down $300 million?
There is only one catch, though. Before you receive it, you have to send them some money for “international transfer fees,” or some such.
Don’t do it. If it were real, they would be paying you money, not expecting money themselves. Also, if it were real, they would not know how to contact you through email or phone.
Also, you didn’t win the lottery. You just didn’t.
The lesson is: Be on your guard where money is concerned. Before you give money to anyone, be certain you know who it is. Be especially wary if they ask to be paid in cryptocurrency, wire transfer, gift cards, a payment app or money order.
When in doubt, check it out.