Happy New Year: Beware of scammers

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Happy New Year. And be wary in 2016 of the increasing sophistication and technical savvy of Internet, telephone and mail scammers who are determined to steal you blind.

The New Year’s greeting comes from me. The admonition about predators out to separate you from your hard-earned money was issued this week by Timothy Johnston, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Northern Nevada, an area that includes Churchill County, Carson City, Douglas County, Washoe County and Lake Tahoe.

Scammers are “basically imposters,” and their ruses that have been reported to the BBB include those that “scare people with threats of arrest, lawsuits or other frightening actions. Scammers are pretending to be government agents, lawyers, debt collectors and police officers,” warns Mary E. Power, head of the 112 BBBs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“The scammers engage directly with you, so your best bet to avoid being scammed is to stop engaging. Hang up the phone, delete the e-mail and shut the door,” advises Power.

The BBB has listed the most prevalent scams it is attempting to prevent, and here they are as follows:

The Tax Scam — You receive a phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS, stating you owe money in back taxes and will be arrested or face legal consequences if you don’t pay (usually by wire or prepaid debt card). The caller ID is “spoofed” to appear to be from a law enforcement agency.

The Debt Collection Scam — You receive a phone call from someone claiming you have an unpaid debt. You are threatened with garnishments, lawsuits, even jail time if you don’t send money to the scammer.

The Sweepstakes/Prizes/Gifts Scam — You receive an e-mail, call or letter stating you have won a prize, but in order to claim it you must send a fee to cover “expenses.”

The Tech Support Scam — You are contacted by “technicians” claiming to have detected a security threat on your computer, and for a fee the problem will be removed at once. The callers are actually hackers trying to steal your money or sensitive computer passwords and to damage computers with malicious software.

The Credit Card Scam — Here, the scammer pretends to be from your bank or credit card issuer, stating you are eligible for a lower interest rate or to verify a recent transaction, but that you first must send the scammer your credit card number and security code to “verify” your identity.

The Lottery Scam — You receive a letter, phone call or e-mail stating that you have won a large amount of money in a foreign lottery, but first you must pay upfront taxes and fees. Such lotteries are illegal, says the BBB.

Scammers, says Johnston, “often catch you when you’re not expecting it. For example, a pop-up suddenly appears on your computer screen and will tell you that you have a virus and ‘we can get rid of the virus by giving us full access to your private information such as passwords, bank accounts, etc.’”

Of all the nations in the U.N., the United States ranked 34th.

Crooks also prey on teenagers’ social media pages to learn of the youngsters’ personal habits, interests and personalities so they (the scammers) can wring money from the kids’ families by scaring them into believing their children or grandchildren need money, for example, to bail them out of jail or help with a medical emergency.

“Adults, as well as children, need to slow down and ask themselves, ‘What do we want to share on social media? Should we automatically accept and welcome new friends on Facebook?,’” said Johnston.

“There is a science to scams, and it may surprise people that scammers use many of the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. The difference, of course, is that their products are illegal and could cost you a fortune,” he stated.

The scammer builds a rapport and relationship with you. This is often used face-to-face, as in home improvement, investment and romance scams. Scammers make themselves looks legitimate, using fake websites, social media posts or hacked e-mails that come from a friend’s account. Most e-mail phishing scams spoof real companies, and many scammers pretend to be a trusted business or government agency in order to add credibility. The scammer plays on one’s emotions to get you to make a quick decision before you have time to think about it. An emergency situation or a limited time offer is usually the scammer’s methodology... he counts on your emotional rather than rational decision making, says the BBB.

What can one do to foil the scammers?

Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions. Research the people or organization seeking your money on bbb.org. Never provide personal information to people you don’t know. Don’t click on unsolicited e-mails or text messages. Call directly the office of your bank, utility company, etc., to make sure it has really contacted you for personal information. And never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know.

Timothy Johnston can be contacted at the area BBB by telephoning him at 775-322-0657 or e-mailing him at tjohnston@reno.bbb.org.

David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.


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