It seems that every day we hear or read about a new phone or online financial scam or fraud, or an increase in the number of Americans affected by some of the ones that we have heard about in the past. I recommend that everyone spend some quality time reading important information on these scams and frauds, and tips on how to protect yourself and your family members, on the Federal Trade Commission’s websites, and on other websites like the DailyScam.com. It will be time well spent.
In addition, there are now those predators that open phony social media accounts, friend students, obtain sensitive information or images, and then attempt to blackmail them to not release sensitive material. It is despicable, but it can be an important lesson for students, so make sure that you bring this to their attention, and then broaden the scope, so that they will learn about the many other scams and frauds out there.
Before discussing some of the scams that I found most notable, here are a few things that got my attention when I was researching the issue.
First, Michael Bruemner, vice president of consumer protection at Experian, one of the three credit reporting agencies, said “scams are more sophisticated today compared to five years ago.”
Second, according to aarp.org, millennials are more susceptible to scams than seniors. As reported in the annual data book of consumer complaints about fraud that was released by the Federal Trade Commission, 40 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 reported losing money in a fraudulent scheme in 2017. That is compared to only 18 percent of people 70 and older who lost money. In addition, people younger than 50 were more likely to be bilked than those who had passed the mid-century mark.
On the other hand, even though younger people were more likely to lose money to scammers, older victims on average lost more money. For those 20 to 29, the median dollar amount lost to schemes was $400, while for those in their 70’s that figure was $621. Fraud victims who were older than 80 had the largest median money loss, which was $1,021.
According to aarp.org, there are several reasons for this susceptibility of younger people. Experts say that younger consumers are actually far more open to sharing personal information online, which opens them up to scams. They also point to the “optimism bias,” which is the assumption by younger people that others are more at risk than they are.
Finally, in 2017 scams and frauds cost Americans $905 million. Let’s look at some common phone scams to be on the lookout for.
The same day that I started working on this column, my wife experienced the “Social Security Scam” firsthand. She received a call on her cellphone telling her that her Social Security number had been compromised by hackers. Of course, she hung up.
Here is what the Federal Trade Commission has to say about this scam.
In 2018, more than 35,000 people reported the scam, and indicated that they lost $10 million.
Sometimes, the scammer wants you to confirm your SSN to reactivate it. Sometimes, he’ll say your bank account is about to be seized — but he’ll tell you what to do to keep it safe. (Often, that involves putting your money on gift cards and giving him the codes — which, of course, means that your money is gone.) Oh, and your caller ID often shows the real SSA phone number (1-800-772-1213) when these scammers call — but they’re faking that number. It’s not the real SSA calling.
Here's what the FTC says that you need to know:
— Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls out of the blue. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.
— SSA will never call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.
— The real SSA number is, in fact, 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are putting that number in the caller ID. If you’re worried about what the caller says, hang up and call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to the real SSA. Even if the wait time is long, confirm with the real SSA before responding to one of these calls.
— Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you, or your bank account or credit card number.
Another somewhat similar scam, but this time aimed at seniors, is the Medicare Card Scam. Again, here is what the FTC has to say about this scam. Sometimes, the scammer claims to be a Medicare representative and asks to verify (steal) your information. Or they claim that there’s a fee for your new card (there isn’t). Others claim that your Medicare card was compromised and
you need to move your money from your bank into “safer accounts” (it wasn’t, you don’t, and following their advice means putting your money in their pockets). Some scammers even offer plastic versions of the card for a fee — even though the real Medicare cards are paper and there are no legitimate plastic cards.
What do you need to know?
— Don’t give personal information to get your new Medicare card. If someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, asking for your Social Security number, bank information, or other information to get your new card, that’s a scam. Hang up. Medicare will never ask you to give personal information to get your new Medicare number and card.
— Don’t pay for your new card. It’s yours for free. If anyone calls and says you need to pay for it, that’s a scam. Hang up.
In the next column, we will look at some additional phone, but also internet and social media, scams and frauds. In the meantime, be alert, and question it when anyone calls you asking you for any personal information, as opposed to when you call them. Don’t give them the information, and hang up. Also, if someone calls you with a threat that just doesn’t sound right, listen to what they have to say, again, politely hang up, and then check it out.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo.