Some of the most crucial New Year’s resolutions can help consumers steer clear of potential scams by understanding how they work.
According to Connecticut Better Business Bureau, victims unknowingly provide personal and financial information to swindlers over the internet, in telephone calls and at their front door.
“The keys to protecting ourselves from financial fraud and identity theft are knowing the red flags, and using a healthy dose of skepticism,” according to Connecticut BBB spokesman Howard Schwartz.
“Sidestepping scammers may appear to be a daunting task, however, it is easier than most people think. If we follow a simple few rules, we can protect ourselves from the vast majority of scams and make ourselves more educated consumers”.
Although swindles are constantly evolving, they all involve giving out information to people we don’t know over the telephone, at our front door and on the internet.
One of the most prominent red flags involves any demand for payment through an untraceable method, such as a wire transfer, cashier’s check or gift cards.
A great deal of fraud involves impostor scams. The swindlers pretend they are calling from your doctor’s office, a financial institution, government agency, the court system or police. They will typically threaten the victim with arrest unless they pay a fake “fee” or “penalty.
Other scams involve a softer touch in which an imposter pretends to represent a charity. Because caller ID can be spoofed, you can never be certain who is on the other end of the telephone line.
Email is another popular tool used by criminals to commit fraud. The email often has the look and feel of a legitimate institution, and encourages recipients to click on a link or open an attachment. Either of those actions can infect a computer with a virus. If you click on a link, it may redirect you to an authentic-looking web page that will ask for enough personal information to allow the scammers to commit identity theft.
Unless you initiate the communication be suspicious of anyone who contacts you asking for personal information.
Connecticut BBB offers tips to help you avoid most scams, and ensure you are dealing with a legitimate business:
Check all terms and conditions – These will help you understand any limits, exclusions or extra fees.
Avoid doing business at your front door – It is better to select a professional, business or charity yourself, rather than respond to a solicitation. In addition, if the individual claims to be with a utility company, phone company or any other type of business, they may carry false identification.
Keep an eye on your credit reports – These may give you an early indication that someone is using your personal information to open lines of credit and obtain loans. You may obtain your reports for free from the government-sanctioned website annualcreditreport.com. You will be asked to provide personal information for authentication purposes. This allows you to keep an eye on your credit reports all year long, by requesting a report from one of the three credit monitoring companies every four months.
Harden your computer security – Update and scan your computer regularly with anti-malware. Download operating system and software updates which are often designed to close security loopholes. Buy a backup drive to preserve your important files, photos and videos in case of a cyber hack or computer failure.
You don’t get something for nothing – This includes cruises, fake inheritances and sweepstakes. There is always a catch.