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Email: robyn@moneycarevt.com

Protect Yourself from Scams: Stop and Think

If scamming people wasn’t so profitable, there wouldn’t be so many con artists tricking people out of their money. There are many types of scams. Here are three which recently happened in my world:

1. My mother answered the phone to this greeting: “Hi Grandma, I’m in Florida to attend a funeral.” Evidently my child was in Florida, ran into trouble, and was looking for money to be bailed out of jail.

2. The IRS left two messages within three weeks on my answering machine telling me the agency is suing me. The recorded message included a phone number to call back. My friends received the same message which terrified their teenager when she retrieved messages.

3. The treasurer of an organization received an e-mail from one of its service providers telling it to wire a $3,000 down payment for a new project. The project had been discussed at a recent board of directors meeting. The request seemed legitimate as the author of the message knew about the board’s discussion. The service provider is also one of my providers, and sent an e-mail to all

How can you avoid falling for these and other scams?

Before you respond, stop. Breathe. Think. Keep emotions from taking over. Ignoring pressure to act immediately allows you to evaluate any request, even those from people you know. It gives you time to determine whether this is a legitimate request for your money or personal information. Ask yourself:

• Did this request for my information or money come out of the blue?
• Do I know and trust this person, company or government office?
• Is it a reasonable follow-up to a transaction I initiated?
• Is it unusual or out of character for this organization or person (especially when I know them) to be asking me for money or information?
• Is this the normal way this company, person or government agency communicates with me?

Before responding to any request, contact the individual, agency or company to verify the request. However, do not reply to questionable e-mails, click on any links in e-mail messages, or return calls to phone numbers left on your answering machine.  Instead, call the person directly. Contact the company using your own information sources. Note that statements and invoices will usually include correct website addresses and telephone numbers.

Understand that anyone can easily change the “from address” in their email program to make it look like the message is from a company or a person you know. E-mail addresses are available everywhere. If the message is strange, be suspicious.

Be aware that logos on fake websites often look legitimate. Logos can be copied directly from the real websites.

Recognize these dead giveaways of scams:

  • Demands or pressure to send money immediately
  • Instructions to wire money
  • Requests for your personal information over phone or via e-mail (even when the requests seem legitimate or you feel threatened)
  • Blocked caller ids preventing you from identifying the caller
  • Instructions to send money to claim a prize
  • Family members calling out of the blue from odd locations

If it is immediately clear someone is trying to con you, hang up the phone or delete the e-mail message. Don’t engage the caller no matter how nice he seems or no matter how much she knows about you. Don’t apologize or give the caller time to respond. Be rude and disengage.

What happened in the cases I mentioned above?

Fortunately my mother thought it strange my child was in Florida attending a funeral, and not in school. She also knows it is out of character for my child to be in jail. She told the caller to contact his parents and hung up.

I ignored the fake IRS call. So did my friends. I know the IRS contacts people only by mail, not phone. Nothing from the IRS arrived in either my or my friends’ mailboxes.

Unfortunately, the organization went ahead and wired $3,000 before researching whether the request was legitimate. The e-mail seemed legit, it even had the correct details, names and e-mail addresses. All this information, however, including the recent meeting minutes, was available on the organization’s website. There were two clues this was a scam:

1. The request to wire the money
2. This particular service provider always sends invoices via US Mail.

If you are ever in doubt:

  • Talk requests over with financially-smart people you trust such as your accountant, other professional advisors, or a money-savvy family member or friend
  • Search the Federal Trade Commission website FTC.gov 
  • Visit the online Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/us
  • Contact the fraud division of your local police department

For more information on e-mail scams, click here.

By Robyn Young

Money Care, LLC

Special thanks to Stephanie Raccine for her contribution to this blog. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.