By Gary Meeks, RICP®
I have discussions all the time with clients about how to protect their money or investments. Often, these discussions are about principal protection offered by FDIC insurance, guarantees offered by insurance companies, corporations, the US government or bank guarantees. Today, I would like to talk to you about protecting yourself against scammers.
In 2020, phone scams accounted for $20 billion in losses. It’s estimated that only one in 44 scams are reported, so losses by the public due to scams is likely much higher. My parents, age 80, are constantly bombarded by phone, text and email scams. Studies show that the elderly are more vulnerable in part because they are sometimes lonely and are more likely to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Here are some common scams and some tips to protect yourself.
Government Imposter Calls: As the name suggests, these scammers try to convince you that they represent a government agency, such as the social security administration, the IRS or Medicare. Your initial reaction may be “I must have done something wrong.” That’s exactly what the scammer wants. The caller will likely pressure you into providing personal information or bank information and urge you to do so immediately to correct the problem. They may even offer to give you an employee ID number to appear legitimate. This is almost certainly a scam. Government agencies rarely contact people by phone about such issues. Hang up! If you have any concern about tax issues or social security benefits, you can call the government agency directly to inquire.
The Grandparent Scam: This call involves some dirtbag calling pretending to be one of your grandchildren who is in trouble and in need of money fast. With these fraudulent calls, the caller will try to create a sense of urgency on your part to act quickly to help. It’s also common for them to ask that you don’t tell their parents. The caller may even put someone else on the phone pretending to be a police officer or hospital doctor. Always ask for a name and number and tell them you’ll call back. Once off the phone, you can check the number and call your children or grandchild directly using the contact information you already have.
Robocalls: What is a Robocall? It is a computer-generated call with the goal of getting you to answer “yes” to a question such as, “can you hear me? or “is this (your name)?” If the scammer can get a recorded voice message from you saying “yes,” the recording could be used to authorize fraudulent purchases or charges. The scammers may leave a message regarding a supposed Amazon purchase you made and the need to resolve an issue with the purchase. Remember. Amazon and other online retailers almost always provide details of your order by email to you. Also, you can verify orders by simply logging in to your account. Sometimes, the message will indicate you’ve won a contest or that you are eligible for a gift but to receive such, you must provide them with your bank information. Don’t do it! Remember this adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is!”
The computer hack scam: This scam could come in the form of an email, computer pop up or email. It’s an alert intended to cause panic. “You’ve been hacked” or “Your computer has been infected by a virus,” urging you to “call us so we can help you remove it” This is almost certainly a scam. The scammers in this case will likely try to convince you to pay them to remove the fake virus and try to convince you to give them permission to take control of your computer. Big red flag! The best thing you can do in this instance is power off your computer and seek help from a trusted family member or computer technician.
Other suggestions: Add your phone number to the do-not-call registry. Get caller ID for your landline if you don’t have it. Get your phone service provider to help you set your phone to block unknown phone numbers and or block Robocalls. Do not answer calls from numbers you do not recognize. If you get a call requesting that you press a number on your phone keypad, just hang up. Never provide personal or bank information over the phone to someone you don’t know. Always seek help from a trusted family member when in doubt about a possible scam. Be familiar with and keep your computer security software up to date. There are many ways to protect your money and one of those includes protecting yourself against fraud.
Gary D. Meeks, RICP®, is a registered representative offering securities and advisory services through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, member FINRA/SIPC, a broker dealer and Registered Investment Adviser. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity. 90 West 100 North Suite 6, Price, UT 84501 (435) 637-8160.
1 Protecting Older Consumers, Federal Trade Commission, 10/18/20
2 5 Ways to Stop Senior Citizen Scams, Consumer Reports, 6/15/19
3 Scam Glossary, Federal Communications Commission, 2/11/21
4 Older people are more likely to live alone in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world, Pew Research Center, 3/10/20
5 People who live alone among the likely to be scammed, Cadillac News, 10/17/19
6 Financial Exploitation Is Associated with Structural and Functional Brain Differences in Healthy
7 Older Adults, The Journals of Gerontology, 5/2/17. Most recent data available.
Elder Fraud, FBI, 2021