10 Popular Scams and How to Avoid Them

Scammers work around the clock…year-round. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is receiving many incident reports indicating increases in their work load. Older people are defrauded out of $12.76 billion annually, according to True Link Financial. This includes identity theft and all those crazy scams you hear about that you think will never work on you. The next scam victim could be you or someone you know. Here are the top 10 scams to watch out for and how to protect yourself:

1. Tech Support – You get a call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft or Windows tech support, telling you that viruses have been detected on your computer. They refer you to a certain website with a dummy screen that shows the viruses being detected and eliminated; malware is being installed that allows the scammer to steal your usernames and passwords, hold your data for ransom or even use your webcam to spy on you.
Your Plan: Hang up the phone. Neither company makes unsolicited phone calls. Don’t click on any links promising to speed up our computer.

2. Silent Call– The phone rings, you pick it up, say, “Hello,” but there’s no one on the other line. This is a new type of robocall- an automated computer system making tens of thousands of calls to build a list of humans to target for theft.
Your Plan: Put caller ID on your landline. Screen your calls and do not answer unfamiliar numbers.

3. IRS Imposter– This is the number one reported fraud. Someone will call claiming to be from the IRS (may even leave a message) stating that you owe back taxes and threaten that unless funds are wired immediately, legal action will be taken or you’ll be arrested. (Or they may say you have a refund waiting but need to verify personal info before sending.) Sometimes “IRS” shows up on caller ID and the con artists supply “badge numbers” and they know the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Your Plan: Do not return a call from someone claiming to be with the IRS. The real IRS communicates with a taxpayer only via the U.S. Postal Service. If you are ever in doubt about an IRS matter, call them directly at 800-829-1040.

4. Cancer Charity Rip-Off– The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged four national cancer charities (the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, the Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society) with defrauding consumers of $187 million.
Your Plan: Before contributing to any charity, check out its rating on www.charitynavigator.org. DO NOT give cash to door-to-door solicitors or your credit card numbers to callers. Ask questions. Trust your gut.

5. Chip Card– Con artists are impersonating card users and sending emails requesting personal financial information, or asking you to click on a malware-laced link before being issued a new card. They convincingly use the bank’s logo and color scheme, and even have footer links such as “View Our Privacy Policy” and “Contact Us.”
Your Plan: No credit card company will email or call you to verify personal info it already has on file before mailing a new card. (At most, you’ll get a letter in the mail saying it will arrive soon.) If you’re ever unsure, simply call the number on the back of your card (not the one supplied by the email) and ask the company if it’s trying to contact you.

6. Faith-Based Dating– Beware on sites like BigChurch, ChristianMingle, JDate and others like them. Most people are more likely to fall for scams on these sites because they can’t believe somebody of their own faith is a con artist. These scams involve con artists stealing the hearts of unsuspecting singles and then using various ploys to steal money.
Your Plan: Before getting involved with anyone online, use Google or Spokeo.com to research the person. Finding “no results” is a red flag. Keep in mind that people who are legitimately looking for love won’t ask for money.

7. Medical Identity Theft– As a consumer, you can’t be legally held liable for fraudulent purchases made with your credit card info, however you can be required to cover the cost for health care services you never received. These include tests, prescription drugs and even operations.
Your Plan: Never surrender Social Security, Medicare or health insurance numbers to anyone you don’t know and trust. Be particularly wary of free health checks offered at shopping malls, fitness clubs and retirement home (so-called rolling labs). If asked to photocopy your cards or ask you to sign a blank insurance claim form, do not do it. (After all, it’s supposed to be free.) It’s important to review all statements from your insurance provider. If there are charges you don’t understand, call immediately. When shopping online for prescription drugs or other health-related items, remember that if a price seems to good to be true, it probably is.

8. Counterfeit Apps– There are apps that have been compromised and developed with malware that are deigned to steal passwords and do devious things.
Your Plan: Always read an app’s reviews before downloading and choosing proven, popular ones.

9. Grieving Widow(er)– There are scammers that scan obituaries for prey, then pretend to be a bank official to trick them out of the money. While you are grieving, you may be more vulnerable to fraud tactics that play on your emotions.
Your Plan: Ask a trusted family member to temporarily handle your financial responsibilities while you are grieving. Have that person follow up on any suspicious calls or emails.

10. Gift Voucher– This rip-off involves getting an unsolicited email from McDonald’s Subway or another popular restaurant or retailer offering a free gift card if you click on a link to activate it. The pitch looks legit, but it’s a phishing scam, meaning the perpetrator is either trying to install malware on your computer or gather personal info by having you complete an online questionnaire.
Your plan: Never click a link in an unsolicited email or divulge personal info, no matter how enticing the offer. Do a Google search (such as “McDonald’s gift card scam”) and see if any warnings come up. In most cases they will.

If you or anyone you know is the victim of any of these scams, contact the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at 770-942-2121, 8470 Earl D. Lee Blvd., Douglasville, GA 30134 and provide as many details as you can about your incident.

***Most of this information was taken from an AARP.org (Jan/Feb 2016) article, “A New Breed of Con Artists,” where identity thieves revealed how they steal, consequences for victims and the best ways to protect yourself.***