Op-Ed: Don’t Be a Scam Victim

By Ernest Salomon

Consumers reported losing almost $8.8 billion to scams and fraud in 2022, up 30 percent over 2021’s losses, according to newly released numbers from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The rising cost of these crimes is staggering, considering that in 2020 Americans lost $3.5 billion to fraud, including identity theft! This is an increase of 40% in just two years!

The highest losses were incurred through investment scams — a total of more than $3.8 billion in 2022, double the amount lost to such schemes in 2021, with a staggeringly high median loss of $7,144 per victim. Seniors continue to be the hardest hit group of people who are scam victims, suffering losses that are twice the per person amount that the rest of the population has stolen  by scammers.

The largest amount of scamming is accomplished through bogus investment opportunities, usually offering a return that is too good to be true.  Then there are all kinds of phony government agency impostors: phony Social Security and Medicare representatives along with fraudulent IRS Agents.  It also includes crooks who pose as representatives of businesses, collection agencies and utility companies.  For those of you with grandchildren in financial difficulty, you could get a call or text from an impostor grandchild begging for money.

The internet and email have made scamming more profitable and much easier. Millions of people have received emails or phone calls telling them that they have won a huge amount of money, but in order to collect it they have pay a “service charge”.  Why scam seniors?   Because they control a huge amount of our country’s wealth, many are alone, have lost some of their cognitive ability and far too many are lonely.

Some of the things that you can do to protect yourself and your family members against scammers:

Obtain call blocking from your telephone company.  They have huge and growing lists of scammer telephone numbers that they will use to block for you automatically after one ring.   Don’t answer a call from an unknown number. Don’t open emails from senders that you do not know.  Activate your email spam blocker and add suspect emails to the list.  If you do answer the phone and don’t recognize the caller; HANG-UP!

Never give your personal information to a caller or to an email sender.  Call back on numbers that you know belong to a legitimate source and ask if they called you or sent you an email. Company contact numbers are on credit cards and invoices.  Get a receipt for every credit card purchase and check your invoices each month.  If you suspect fraud, call your credit card company, and they will take it from there.

Your personal information is gold to a scam artist.  Make sure it is secure.  Don’t carry your social security card.  Make sure that your mail box is secure from theft and shred or use a security ink roller on all documents with your personal information.  Don’t get involved with sweepstakes, foreign lotteries and never pay to play anything or pay fees to scammers.   If a person you do not know wants to meet with you personally for anything that has to do with money; HANG UP!

Almost 70% of financial theft is committed by family members who have access to their relatives’ finances, including checks, bank accounts and stock portfolios, etc.  In far too many cases, caretakers steal from their clients because many elderly live far away from their children or other trustworthy family members.  An elderly person, especially one who does not have 100% of their faculties, should have a bonded trustee and/or financial advisor and be guided by their lawyer for any financial decision.   Many elderly sell their homes in order to move into a senior facility.  A lawyer can offer advice and make sure everything and everyone is on the level, including the realtor and the facility. Legal fees are cheap compared to losing your financial assets!

Don’t lend money to anyone without security unless you are prepared to lose it.  If the person cannot or will not pay it back and does not have any resources of value, you will bear the loss!  There are people who borrow money from acquaintances with no intention of paying it back.  Some years ago, two Montecito financial advisors each lost $25,000 in loans that were never going to be paid back. Scams happen to smart people and everyone else.

We live in a beautiful area that has had its share of fires, floods and earthquakes.  Disasters bring out crooked contractors from near and far.  People are vulnerable when disaster strikes and scam artists go to work.  If a disaster strikes your property, contact your insurance company first. Know who you are dealing with and investigate them before you proceed. Sign nothing without competent advice, preferably from your lawyer  Most importantly, California law sets the maximum up-front payment to a contractor at $1,000.  Once you choose a contractor, pay them no more than $1,000 up front and then only pay them for work as it is completed and passes inspection by the Building Department. Never pay for work that has not been completed.

There are several other aspects to the scamming world and I have tried to cover some of the prevalent ones with the advice that you investigate BEFORE you are a victim.  Remember-If it sounds as if it’s going to reward you with a huge profit or it is a huge bargain, it’s probably a scam that’s too good to be true and you will lose your money.  The Santa Barbara District Attorney has a victim assistance unit, but remember, by the time you call them, you are already a victim.

If you are not 100% knowledgeable about the person you are   dealing with and about what you are signing or buying, call in someone who is known to you to be trustful and knowledgeable before you sign, not after you have been scammed.  There should be no rush by pressuring you to make a decision!

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the author’s.
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