Speaker, Author, Consultant, Fraud Examiner

It does not matter if you are participating in the Do Not Call Registry, receiving multiple scam and telemarketing calls is a daily annoyance. In fact, my phone roared to life with a telemarketing call even as I wrote this post.

So, why do scams live?

A scam, by definition, is a “confidence game, or other fraudulent scheme, especially for making a quick profit; to cheat or defraud; swindle.” Typically, scams are perpetrated by a group of people with a common cause: to gain information that will lead to a financial reward. There is a certain mob-mentality to dishonesty. The more people involved, the less likely a participant’s conscience against doing harm will kick in. In fact, it is sociopathic behavior among a group of participants in that there is no conscience involved.

Scams take shape via all forms of media – mail, email, telephone,
internet and in person.

A scammer will reach you by any means available to them. In its truest sense, a scam is deceiving an unsuspecting person out of something of value. General scams throw a wide net over the populace, such as the Nigerian Prince, the friend in the Philippines that needs money, the court that has a warrant out for your arrest, or Microsoft calling about a virus on your computer. As a whole, most scams are of the general type and receive a lot of media attention informing the public not to succumb to the scam; and yet, the scammers are still “fed” by innocent victims.

The more dangerous scams, such as IRS scams, not only do the most damage, they come armed with the most personal information.

Identity theft is on the rise with more than 1,579 breaches this past year and exposing almost 179 million personal information records. The Equifax breach was not the only significant breach in 2017. Javelin Strategy & Research states that in 2017, 16.7 million individuals were affected by identity theft, resulting in $16.8 billion dollars stolen.

It takes time, energy and patience to sort out identity theft, but to not do so bears a greater impact. Last year alone, three of my credit cards were charged fraudulently.

Scams are a societal issue.

While readying this blog to post, CBS This Morning did an informative fact-filled segment on Sweepstakes Scams. It is as if they read this blog before it ever posted. The segment really hit home just how deep scams run and how they are a financial and emotional pain point in our modern society.

Who are the victims? Anyone.

There is little to no effort involved in becoming a victim. In the case of identity theft, a breach in a financial institution leaves us all vulnerable. I have written extensively about information and scams in the past, as well as the Equifax breach, but let’s take this one step further.

Scams live because they are being fed.

Scammers are not honest people. They are unethical people who do not care about the damage they leave behind. They do not care if they rob an elderly citizen out of their savings. They do not care about you, period. What they do care about is being successful in their end game. And, to some, that’s exactly what it is to them – a game.

When a scammer views the scam as a game, the objective is to be as convincing as possible, using all means of deception to cause the unsuspecting victim to part with the valuables. Their goal is to create an emotional response that will compel you to take action. It is emotional manipulation for financial gain. They display no ethics, nor compassion, and when they are successful, once you are a victim, you become a future target.

How do you defeat their plan?

1. Never give any personal information to anyone, be it over the phone, email, or Facebook.

Take extra care not to share credit card information, social security number, and/or birthdate.

2. Never send any money for anything to anyone.

That “amazing offer” to pay only for the fees/taxes/shipping costs of an item does not exist. If it sounds too good to be true, it is NOT true. We want to believe that this major influx of financial opportunity is great karma. It sounds compelling, after all. Don’t be fooled; it is a scam. You should not have to pay money to work at home. You have not “won” a prize if you have to send money or provide credit card information. If you inherit money, they do not need your bank account information. Do not let financial relief or greed ever be a guide for your decisions. Life simply does not work that way.

3. Secure your personal information. Lock down your credit with the credit bureaus.

I talked about this in the Equifax post. Make it happen sooner, rather than later. Do not wait until a crisis to remedy what made you vulnerable in the first place. The cost of time, energy and money take a greater toll once the damage is done.

4. Review your credit card transactions.

Do not ignore that one line item you do not remember purchasing for $9.49. Call the credit card company to check the sale. Review your calendar – did you make the purchase? If not, it could be a scam test transaction, waiting for bigger opportunities to strike. Review your transactions at least every two weeks.

5. Ensure your credit card has chip technology.

I received a call earlier this year regarding one of my chip cards. I was in possession of my card, but the card number was being swiped at various retail locations, not read with the chip card reader. That alerted the credit card company to issue a fraud alert. The magnetic strip of a credit card can be reproduced for fraudulent cards, but the chip is almost impossible to recreate.

6. Be mindful of how you answer the phone.

If I do not recognize the phone number, or there is no caller ID, I typically will not even answer the call. If I do, I do not say hello. I wait to hear if it is a robocall or a call room with lots of background noise. If that is the case, I hang up without saying anything.

7. Register all phone numbers with the Do Not Call Registry.

The registry allows the opportunity to report scam call phone numbers. I have even registered my 800 number, as I receive consistent solicitation phone calls. Once registered, the phone number stays until the registration is canceled. That being said, the Federal Trade Commission is not releasing cell phone numbers, as a recent Facebook scam post would have you believe.

8. Bring up the conversation with your aging loved ones.

The reason general scams still exist is because of our vulnerable population – the aging and the innocent minded. Dementia alters the ability to reason. Please protect them by all means possible. Share this blog post with them to start your conversation.

9. Verify and validate all information.

I do not ever contribute to any organization that calls. Ever. Be that a police association, cancer research, or blood donation, the risk is greater than the reward. I ask to have information sent via snail mail so that I may validate the organization before offering any of my data. If you honestly believe a loved one is in stuck in the Philippines, call and check on them PRIOR to giving any personal information. The caller will be persuasive and urgent, making desperate, urgent pleas. Ignore the emotion and panic – call to verify.

10. Beware of social media.

If you think you are already friends with someone on Facebook, do not accept a second friend request. Be mindful of the personal information you are posting, and if you are suspicious of someone having been spoofed or hacked, message them and let them know so they can take care of it.

Remember, we are human. We want to trust others, but we can be deceived. It is a strange hunting ground on which we are all prey. Be diligent to take care of the details you have control over and be mindful of everything else.

Want to join the discussion? Feel free to contribute below!