If you’re over 50, you are likely to fall victim to a scam. With new technologies being developed all of the time (and a wealth of new opportunities for scammers), those of us born prior to the technical revolution find oursevles especially vulnerable. Therefore, I am running a 3-part series written by Ismat Mangla for the Experian blog, “My Relatives Fell For This New Scam: Be On the Lookout!”
PART III (Please see my previous posts for Parts I and II of this series.)
How To Avoid Being Scammed
Whether a phone scammer is enticing you to save money on your utilities, threatening to shut off your electricity unless you pay an outstanding bill immediately, or pitching an unbelievably “low-cost” vacation opportunity, the most important thing you can do is to simply hang up the phone.
This is easier said than done, as many older Americans don’t want to seem impolite. But Parshall says it’s vital to get over that fear.
“We tell people to screen their calls and not pick up unless they recognize the number,” says Parshall. “And if you did pick up, the second someone asks for any personal information or anything to do with money, just hang up. Don’t feel bad about it—you did not invite them in. They’re entering your space.”
If you have entered into a conversation with someone who is trying to sell you a product or convince you to engage in a service, tell them you need some time to think about it. No legitimate offer or service is going to evaporate after you hang up the phone.
“If something sparks your interest, hang up anyway, do your own research and run it by a family member or friend,” says Parshall. “Sometimes just hearing yourself say it out loud is enough to give you pause.”
Giving yourself time also allows your more rational urges to kick in.
And remember that no legitimate company is going to limit your payment method, which is what Utility Savings Expert did. They claimed they could not receive payment by check or credit card—only wire transfers.
Similarly, a legitimate operation will never ask you to volunteer personal information, like your Social Security number or even account data. That’s another huge red flag. If your utility company, for example, needed to contact you for an outstanding balance, they would never do it over the phone until you’d received numerous written notices from them. And even then, they would never ask you to offer personal information. If you are concerned, hang up and call your utility company using the number indicated on your written statement.
What To Do If You Become a Victim
Prevention is key in these situations because in most cases, it can be difficult to recover swindled money, says Nofziger. “That’s why education is key.”
But if you have been defrauded, the first thing you should do is file a police report. That is an important step in getting things on the record—and may help in getting your money back from the bank. For example, my relatives should file a police report and then take it to their bank to demonstrate that they were defrauded. In some cases, the bank might make you whole. (They haven’t yet because they’ve been traveling, but I’ve encouraged them to do it as soon as possible.)
“With a wire transfer, your recourse is to go back to the bank, show them the police report, explain everything that happened, and they might replace the money,” says Bailey. “Every bank treats these kinds of situations differently.”
Parshall adds that while some police departments may give you pushback, persist in getting that report filed because it can be used to help you set up a permanent fraud alert, and as evidence, if the issue comes back to haunt you further.
Next, you may also want to report it to the FBI or to relevant state and federal agencies. You can file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. Your state’s Attorney General office is also a good place to lodge the incident; they may have a division devoted specifically to such scams.
You should also check with your county or state to see if they have an organization devoted to helping seniors with financial fraud, like Buffalo’s Center for Elder Justice. Try contacting your state’s Adult Protective Services agency to find out if they have a financial fraud department. Find information for state offices at the U.S. Department of Justice’s site at elderjustice.gov.
“The biggest hurdle we have in getting people to open up and report these things is that they’re embarrassed, angry, [and] fearful, which makes them reluctant,” says Bailey. “But we encourage people to speak out. The key is to be vigilant, be educated, learn as much as you can about the scams out there. Be open. Don’t be afraid to talk to your family about it. It goes both ways—from kids to parents and vice versa.”
I talked to my own relatives about their experience, who did feel some embarrassment at being duped. But they also said they learned their lesson and don’t plan to answer phone calls from people they don’t know in the future—a lesson that cost them $200. It’s a mistake they don’t plan to repeat.
Ismat Sarah Mangla is a veteran journalist with a background in writing about money and religion, though not necessarily at the same time. She previously served as the religion reporter for International Business Times and spent several years as a staff writer at Time Inc.’s Money magazine, where her work earned a Gerald Loeb Award, a SABEW Best in Business Award, and a Henry Luce prize, among others. Her writing has appeared in Time, Fortune, Money, CNNMoney, Quartz, MarketWatch, Al Jazeera America, International Business Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press and Michigan Alumnus magazine. In another life, she was also the founder and editor of Nirali Magazine, a popular website for the South Asian diaspora. Ismat is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journa