Avoid Being Scammed

David L. Johanson |

Avoid Being Scammed

When was the last time you received a phone call or email from a scammer?  I was called today by a scammer.  It did not last long… I hung up.

Internet scams show no signs of letting up.  In fact, the problem may be getting worse.  The FBI said it saw the largest number of complaints and the highest dollar losses reported since the center was established 20 years ago.

The costliest scams involved business email compromise, romance, or confidence fraud, and mimicked the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information.

You can avoid becoming a victim with vigilance and following these common-sense steps.

Beware of the fake invoice or suspicious email.  Be sure to check the email address.  The name may be familiar, but the email address may be a long string of unrelated characters.  Other scamsters may have an email that is one letter off, or they may simply use .net instead of .com.

Does an invoice ask you to provide bank information?  That is a potential red flag.  A simple way to side-step a fraudulent transfer of funds is to verify you are using a trusted source, for instance, making a quick phone call to the vendor.

Scammers will pretend to be from an institution you are familiar with.  You have probably received these emails or phone calls.  Someone reaches out to you claiming to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or another government organization.  The caller says you owe money and that you must pay, or legal action will be taken.

The email may have official logos, or your caller ID may reflect the government agency’s name.

Let me be clear on this.  The IRS will never make first contact via a phone call and claim you owe them money that needs to be paid immediately.  You will receive a letter with details and steps you can take.  If you receive a call, simply hang up the phone.  Please do not engage the caller.  Some may threaten or become abusive.

Avoid the Social Security scam.  In one version of the scam, the caller says your Social Security number has been linked to a crime involving drugs or sending money out of the country illegally.  They then tell you that your Social Security number is blocked.  For a fee, it can be reactivated.  Then the scammer will ask you to confirm your Social Security number.

Hang up.  The Social Security Administration will never call you on the phone and ask for your Social Security number.

Scammers will tell you how to pay.  They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back.

Others will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it, and then send them money.  This is a common Craigslist scam.  The caller wants to purchase your items sight unseen or they will want you to set up a PayPal account or some other type of electronic payment.  (On the other hand, if you are selling items, cash is usually the best way to proceed.)

Pop-up warnings.  Tech support scammers may try to lure you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen.  It might look like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software.  It might use logos from trusted companies or websites.

The message in the window warns of a security issue on your computer and directs you to call a phone number to get help.  Simply ignore it.  You can always use your antivirus software to scan.

If you call, they will likely give you worthless information--for a fee.  They may also have you download malware or other unwanted software that they claim will fix the issue or use it to take control of your computer.

In summary, avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never give out personal information to a stranger over the phone.  You would never tell your best friend your annual income, so why would you give a suspicious caller your passwords, bank information, date of birth or your Social Security number.  Remember to be vigilant and use common sense.