Scam calls, emails and text messages have significantly increased. They attempt to defraud you by tricking you into revealing personal, credit or financial information. So prevalent they have spawned an industry of theft known as phishing by email, smishing by text, and vishing by voice call. Federal Trade Commission data released in 2022 shows that consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021, a whopping increase of more than 70% over the previous year. Of the 2.8 million fraud reports received by the FTC, imposter scams were the most commonly reported, followed by online shopping scams; fake prizes, fake sweepstakes and fake lotteries, and scams involving phony internet services or nonexistent business or job opportunities.
The scams are coming at you on a daily basis, designed to rob your money or steal your identity. They often target older adults with bogus threats related to debts owed or a family member in trouble. When fraud is directed at you personally, it is frightening and very dangerous to your financial accounts. To avoid falling prey, be aware, and be vigilant; although the scenarios presented in scams are fake, the potential for losing thousands of dollars is quite real.
Do Not Engage
- Don’t Answer. The absolute best and most effective advice for avoiding phone scams is…do not answer unfamiliar calls, emails or texts. If you answer a contact and realize it could be a scam — disconnect immediately and do not answer when they attempt to contact you again.
- Set Call ID. If vision loss prevents you from seeing incoming phone numbers, consider setting your phone to announce the incoming call, or assign a special ringtone to your favorite callers. Contact your carrier to find out if they offer options for blocking calls identified as spam.
- Don’t Give Information. Beware of any call or message asking for your personal information including social security number, Medicare ID, date of birth, username, password, mother’s maiden name or credit card info. Government agencies and legitimate businesses do not ask for personal information by phone. Email or text message, if someone does, it is most likely fraud. Confirm the request independently with a call to the company or agency’s customer service line.
- Do Not Send Money. Don’t be pressured to send money urgently. Beware of requests for payments by wire transfer, preloaded debit or gift cards, Google Pay, and Bitcoin. Unusual payment methods are almost certainly indicative of a scam
- Don’t Be Fooled by phone numbers or email addresses that appear to be legitimate; both can be easily faked by scammers.
Be Aware Of These Scams
- Social Security Scams will try to convince you that someone is fraudulently using your SS# or there is a judgment against you which may lead to your arrest. Never respond to calls or messages of this nature.
- Medicare Scams will claim new Medicare cards are being issued or that you are eligible for a free medical device. They will ask for your Medicare and banking information. This is a fraud. Hang up.
- IRS Scams involve a call to demand immediate payment for taxes owed, using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Hang up on this scam and do not return calls to voicemail messages. The IRS does not collect taxes by phone or request unusual payment methods. The fraud can be easily confirmed by calling the IRS directly.
- Grandparent Scam calls or email involve a con artist posing as a family member, lawyer or law enforcement agent reporting serious trouble that urgently requires a wire transfer of funds for bail money, lawyers fees or other fictitious expenses. Don’t believe it, verify the whereabouts of your loved one independently.
- FBI Scams claim you are under investigation and demand a fee to avoid arrest.
- Fishing Scams involve calls, texts and email that impersonate Apple, Verizon, American Express and JP Morgan Chase, among many others, to claim your account has been compromised and you need to reset. Do not call the number or click the links provided. Instead, verify by calling the company’s published customer service number.
- Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams Call or email to inform you that you have won the big prize, but must first pay taxes or fees before it can be released to you. There is absolutely no winning; you can only lose on this one.
No matter what type of scam, the best advice is the same: Do Not Engage! Don’t respond to suspicious calls. If you pick up a questionable call, hang up immediately. Do not call back. Don’t open suspicious emails and don’t open attachments or click links.
Always Protect Your Private Information
- Don’t share your passwords, keep them private and update regularly.
- Shred documents that contain personal or financial information before discarding.
- When using an ATM, cover or block the keypad when entering your PIN.
- Use direct deposit for paychecks, tax refunds, benefit payments, etc.
- Review financial statements monthly and correct errors.
- Review credit report yearly and correct issues.
This article was originally posted July 13, 2019 and updated December 8, 2022.