A Consumer Action News Alert • May 2021
  Chronically scammed  

In March, AARP released a report, "Addressing the Challenge of Chronic Fraud Victimization," that examines why some people remain susceptible to fraud even though they have been victimized and know it. While it's no surprise that scammers' tactics and strategies constantly shift and evolve, they repeatedly use the same old persuasion tactics to lure and sustain victims: playing on fear and need; triggering urgency, hope and excitement; forging "personal connections" to identify emotional triggers; and instilling fear. The report says that families, faith centers and government campaigns can all play a role in breaking the cycle of susceptibility, often rooted in isolation or loneliness, scarcity of resources, and the failure of many people to ignore anti-fraud efforts because they don't see themselves as victims. While not addressed specifically in the AARP report, people who fall for a scam often end up on "suckers lists" that are traded among scammers, leading to ever-escalating intrusions into victims' lives. As a SCAM GRAM reader, you're in a good position to spread the word that, no matter how savvy we think we are, the promise of a "pot of gold" has the potential to override caution.

  Shame on me  

Psychology Today recently wrote about scam victims who don't reveal how they have been taken advantage of, due to shame and vulnerability. One way to break through the shame is to share awareness of how that emotion creates a susceptibility that gives scammers an advantage. Stacey Wood, a psychology professor at Scripps College, told Los Angeles Times reporter David Lazarus, who wrote about the causes and effects of victims' shame and secretiveness, that "scam victims should understand they're not alone in their feelings, and that many other people have experienced exactly what they're going through. Con artists are highly skilled individuals who employ complex psychological tactics to get victims on the hook and keep them there," she said. "Anyone can truly be a victim of fraud." And that's nothing for you to be ashamed about!

  Oldies but not-so-goodies  

Long arm of the 'law.' One of the most prevalent scams is a call purporting to be from the police, tax authorities or the courts, and law enforcement around the nation has been issuing alerts about the fraud. In short, callers or recorded messages deliver dire warnings--you are wanted on an outstanding arrest warrant, you missed jury duty, you owe taxes, or you are being sued. The National Consumers League's Fraud.org recently featured the true story of Libby, from Washington, D.C., who was contacted by someone posing as a police sergeant who claimed she'd missed a court summons and could be arrested and held for 72 hours if she failed to cooperate. The scammers used legitimate names of local law enforcement and court officials and were so convincing that Libby wired $2,500 to a "Treasury Department" account to avoid being arrested and leaving her young son alone and defenseless. If you get one of these calls, do not panic--it is almost certainly a scam. Hang up! If arrest was threatened, follow up with a call to your local police or sheriff's office (look up a non-emergency number; don't dial 9-1-1) to put your mind at ease. And remember, anyone who, out of the blue, asks you to wire money, pay with a gift card or send cash or cryptocurrency is a scammer--you can bet on it!

Scratch this off. If you are randomly contacted about winning a lottery or sweepstakes you never entered, the odds are high it's a scam targeting you for advance payments, such as upfront fees due before you can receive your "winnings." (Never provide your bank account or credit card number or other personal information to someone who contacts you out of the blue by phone or email.) The Federal Trade Commission says lottery scams, especially those originating in foreign countries, are among the most prevalent consumer frauds. But apparently hope springs eternal for many, including, but certainly not limited to, residents of Massachusetts and Texas, where local law enforcement is warning about the scams. A lottery requires you to purchase a ticket in order to participate. If you did not enter to participate in a lottery, ignore any notices saying that you have won. Sweepstakes are free games of chance. Do not send money in advance in order to participate in a sweepstakes. It is illegal to require any payment or purchase to enter a sweepstakes or to increase your odds of winning. (And here's a bonus tip: Even "reputable" sweepstakes from name-brand companies are run by marketers aiming to get your contact information so they can sell you something.)

Hi Grandma, it's [not] me. The so-called "grandparent scam" is alive and well and making victims of thousands of people every year, like this woman. It starts with a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild (or other family member)--and very often the victim will feed the scammer a name ("Sonny, is this you?"). They might speak softly or make an excuse for why they sound different. They'll say they're in trouble, need bail or had an accident. The "grandkid" pleads with you to keep this a secret from their parents. They'll ask you to wire money or buy gift cards (scam alert!), or say that "a friend" will stop by your house to pick up cash. How do they find you? Very often the scammers troll social media, like Facebook, to find targets. Make sure you use the strongest privacy settings and don't discuss personal details in public posts. You can set up "circles" or pages just for family posts. If you get a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild (or other family member) asking for your help, hang up and call the young person or his or her parents immediately to check if there is really something amiss.


With a side of fraud. AARP reports that a new hot commodity for crooks is stolen credentials for accounts such as Grubhub, Instacart, DoorDash and Uber Eats. Pandemic-era consumers have gone bigtime for grocery deliveries and dinner dropped off at their doors, and thieves are just as enthusiastic about grabbing your delivery account credentials so they can partake too. Entering a legitimate user's account credentials increases scammers' chances of a free meal. According to Javelin's "2021 Identity Fraud Study," delivery services accounted for 18% of all the identity frauds accessing "non-financial accounts," surpassing compromised accounts for mobile phones, social media platforms, emails and utilities. Remember, delivery app credentials allow anyone with the username and password to order items that will be automatically charged to the account. How to fight back? Check your delivery accounts regularly to make sure there are no orders you didn't make and that notifications you set up for the apps are still active. Never provide your usernames or passwords via text or email. Carefully scrutinize food delivery website addresses to make sure you're on the correct page. Watch out for texts, calls or emails about a missed delivery--this could mean someone else is using your account.

You're preapproved (and just in the nick of time!). The COVID-19 pandemic brought financial distress to many--and scammers know it. That's why they send fake loan offers via mail, email or text, all with the aim of getting you to provide them with personal information. You could receive a call from a "lender" offering a great guaranteed interest rate, and they might emphasize that a poor credit history is no problem. All you have to do is send them a one-time fee ($200 or more!) to secure the loan. STOP! Any demands for upfront payment for a loan is a huge red flag. Do not provide any bank account or credit card information to the caller. If you didn't apply for a loan, these offers are fishy!

Face-off. The social media giant Facebook is filing lawsuits against people and companies abusing the Facebook and Instagram platforms. From a suit against companies selling fake followers and "likes" to one against entities using "data scraping and false engagement," Facebook is using the courts to show that it will no longer tolerate such actions. Still, Facebook users need to be on their game, because some of the frauds directly target users. Phishing is alive and well on the platform, tricking users into providing personal information like usernames, passwords and credit card numbers. Users may click on an ad and be sent to a disguised destination. Read Consumer Action's guide, "Personalized privacy: Customizing your Facebook settings."

Taking notice of death notices. One of our favorite journalists, Bob Sullivan, signed on as the new co-host of AARP's The Perfect Scam podcast in January. The tales he tells are often heartbreaking, like the story of recently widowed Janet, who, five days after her late husband's funeral, receives a call about "late payments" on a $50,000 life insurance policy. But if Janet doesn't pay the $4,450 overdue balance, the policy won't pay out. Widows are often targeted by scammers, probably because of their supposed fragile emotional state and the fact that many women of the older generation may not have had much to do with managing the couple's finances. Obituaries and death notices are a public source of information that can be used by swindlers against widows and widowers because they often mention a surviving spouse and other details about the deceased and his or her family members. While you shouldn't have to worry about scammers while mourning a loved one, the reality is that precautions are necessary.

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