Ask Chuck: Falling for a Scam?

Dear Chuck,

I’m hearing more and more about financial scams…. I’m concerned about my daughter falling for one while she’s attending college out of state.

Scared of Scammers

 

Dear Scared of Scammers, 

I’m with you! You and your daughter should be on alert as a downturn in the economy always creates an upturn in the activity of scammers! 

Before I get into a deeper look at scams happening to so many groups right now, let your daughter know about this one: Students are receiving messages from scammers posing as someone from their school or college. Sometimes it is a computer generated voice message. These claim that students have to access a portal for information or stimulus payments using their college log-in details. This link leads to a “copycat” college sign-on page, enabling thieves to steal usernames and passwords. But, unfortunately, there are endless others. 

Scams on the Rise

Erin Hurd at the NerdWallet.com recently wrote:

More than 2.3 million cases of fraud and identity theft were reported in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission — an increase of 26% from five years earlier and 138% in a decade. Credit card-related scams accounted for a significant chunk of those cases, including more than 40% of identity theft reports. And those were just the cases that were reported to law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.

And this was before COVID hit! 

Thieves are experts in devising ways to rob innocent individuals. I just learned of a young couple who lost their savings in a Target gift card scam. We should recognize warning signs and know how to protect ourselves, then share the knowledge with our families, friends, neighbors and churches. From young to old, scammers don’t care who they rip off. I hope this article will help you prepare your daughter while she is away at school. 

Watch for Warning Signs

  • Unsolicited phone or email contacts
  • Threats or intimidation that create fear
  • Immediate action demanded
  • Requests for personal information to “confirm” or “complete” information
  • Having to pay upfront or make monthly payments
  • Accepting only wire or gift card payment
  • Advertisements appearing on social media or in search engine
  • Links to unknown or suspicious URL
  • Text messages alerting inaccurate issues with your debit or credit cards
  • Refusing to provide return contact information
  • Unprofessional emails with grammar, punctuation or spelling errors
  • Sounds too good to be true
  • Voice mails threatening legal action 

Protect Yourself

A great deal of identity or account theft happens via the internet access services. Avoid public hotspot problems by asking employees for the correct network name and password. Beware of “free public Wi-Fi” names. Never log into your bank account or use personal information at a public site. Use a virtual private network (VPN) which secures connection on unsecured public networks. 

Never give or sell your Social Security number or personal I.D. information to anybody. Don’t answer phone numbers you don’t recognize. If it is important, they will leave you a message or call back. Hang up on robocalls. Put your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Don’t respond to threatening voicemails. 

When using ATM or gas station card readers, look for skimmers which are devices attached on top of or beside the card slot. If there is any tampering, scratches, or adhesives on the machine, don’t use it.

Review URLs before entering private information. Check for the padlock symbol in the address bar or copy/re-enter the web address to see if it’s legit.

Check your financial accounts often. If you suspect fraudulent activity, notify your credit card issuer or bank immediately. 

The Federal Trade Commission gives a few other suggestions.

Online Fraud and Scam Protection:

  • Keep the software updated on your smartphone and computers
  • Enable firewalls and use an antivirus or antimalware on your computer
  • Avoid using free Wi-Fi networks
  • Be cautious about the sites you visit and links you follow online
  • Don’t respond to unknown emails or follow unknown links
  • Be aware of your privacy settings on social media and online accounts
  • Log out of apps and websites when you are done using them
  • Be cautious of what you share online and never share personal or banking information
  • Shred sensitive documents or anything with your name and address on it.
  • Create strong passwords and never leave your passwords or login credentials where they are accessible to others 

Common Scams (The List is Long) 

The Consumer Fraud Reporting website describes common scams with pertinent information. In addition, I’ve listed some categories alphabetically for reference.

Report Suspicious and Illegal Activity

Whether you experience an attempted scam or fall for it and are ripped off, it is good if you will take the time to report the crime to help others who may be next. Hopefully this list will help make that easier:

Hope For Victims

Over the years, I have counseled a number of victims of scams or people who were taken advantage of by a high pressure salesman, a dishonest business or an unscrupulous person. Remember, no matter what you have lost, whether it is your life savings, your identity information or simply your pride, God will not be mocked. The unrighteous scammers will one day receive due justice. Woe to them on that day. 

Trust the Lord through your shock and pain. Turn to Him and ask for His help to restore whatever you have lost. I have seen Him take care of victims in ways they could have never imagined. He is a God of vengeance and justice. He can turn ashes into beauty.

 

This article was originally published on The Christian Post, August 28, 2020.

Step into this next season in control of your finances.