You can pay for services that claim to protect your personal information online, but the best defense is to be careful about giving out any personal information in the first place.
That was the main message of a fraud prevention seminar put on by retired police sergeant Robert Haig at the Saline Police Department, in collaboration with the Saline Senior Center, on Wednesday, Aug. 22.
About a dozen Saline residents attended the free seminar to learn about telephone and internet scams and in-person fraud schemes.
The key thing to remember with telephone scammers, Haig said, is to not pick up the phone.
“I know you want to hassle them, vent, and tell them your brother-in-law is an FBI agent, but if they know you’ll talk to them, they’ll just call back,” Haig said.
He also recommended that single or widowed women not list themselves in the phone book, as scammers see lone women as easy prey.
Phone scams range from telling someone they have won a sweepstakes to threatening them for not paying taxes. However, Haig said one of the most successful scams targeting seniors involves telling the senior that a grandchild is in jail and needs to be bailed out.
Haig said scammers often only ask for a small amount the first time, but if a victim seems gullible, they’ll come back later and ask for more. Haig refers to this as “shearing,” as in shearing a sheep, because “You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin it once.”
Scammers will often have details such as the grandchild’s full name and city where they live, making it seem plausible. Haig said he knew of a couple in their 90s who paid a scammer three different payments because they thought they were helping a grandchild in another state.
Haig noted that scam artists are creative in how they find personal information to dupe people into giving them money or offering up personal information so that they can steal someone’s identity.
They may look for a sign-in sheet at a funeral or a public event, take a photograph of the page, and get dozens of names, numbers, and addresses. Or, they can mine information from online genealogy sites, naming someone’s dead uncle or great-grandchild to make it seem like the scammer is an old family friend.
While there is periodically a scare about “skimmers” on ATMs or credit card scanners at gas pumps, Haig said those scams are relatively rare because the equipment is costly to the scam artist. He said phone and internet scams are much more prevalent.
A common online scam involves freezing someone’s computer and then flashing a message that they must call a number and pay to have their computer unfrozen. The message states that if you turn off your computer, all data will be wiped.
“Don’t worry. Just turn it off,” Haig suggests.
Technology does allow scammers to trick people in new ways. However, online banking is a positive, Haig said. It allows consumers to check their bank and credit card statements online and catch fraudulent charges right away. Haig says he checks both balances every day.
Other tips from Haig:
- If someone asks for personal information, such as date of birth or social security number, don’t automatically give it. As why they need it, and ask for identification if someone claims to be an official of some kind.
- Don’t trust services like LifeLock to protect your identity or Equifax to protect your credit. You can use those services if they make you feel better, but the first line of defense is to guard your private information carefully.
- Check the Elder Exploitation page at the website for the National Association for Bunco Investigators to see what scams are currently active and how they have fooled others.