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Protect Yourself from Scams

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While social distancing at home, Doug watched a webinar from the Federal Trade Commission, better known as the FTC. The webinar educated librarians about the latest fraud scams and gave us pointers and resources that we can pass on to our patrons.

One great piece of advice is to “follow the money.”  It is common for scammers to demand that people pay via gift card. For example, someone might call you on the phone and pretend to be an agent from the IRS. The caller may demand that you pay your taxes with a gift card.

The FTC advises people to consider whether or not the IRS would really want to be paid with a gift card. If the demand does not seem realistic, the person on the phone is trying to commit a crime. Unfortunately, the victim of the scam may not get their money back.

Many people are familiar with the scam in which a person claiming to be royalty asks for a small amount of money in exchange for a check at a later date. A similar scam claims that you have won a big prize, but you need to send money to cover the taxes on the award.  Regretfully, younger people often fall victim to these kinds of scams because they are not familiar with the way that checks are processed. A victim will send payment in advance and cash the check when it arrives, believing that she already has the amount on the check. Her bank will cash the check, only to discover that the person who wrote the check does not actually have the money.

Who doesn’t look at their caller ID before answering their phone? Scammers have discovered a way to make a legitimate phone number appear on your caller ID. The presenter from the FTC used the social security administration in her example. Even though the caller ID on a person’s phone displays something like “social security administration” or a valid number, the person calling might be a scammer.

The presenter suggests dialing the number of an existing social security office. Do not call the number directly from your phone. Not only will you talk to a legitimate employee, you will find out whether or not there really is a problem.

Even while the Pollard library is closed, the staff is answering phones and checking e-mail. We can help you find the phone numbers you need.

The social security example illustrates another important point from the webinar. A scammer wants to intimidate you and make you panic. That is their goal. If someone is on the phone telling you that something bad will happen unless you do certain things, it is important for you to stop and think.  Does what they are telling you seem real? Have you read an official document from your bank, the social security office, the IRS, etcetera that says the exact opposite?

How can you protect yourself from scams?

  • Think about the payment that is being demanded of you. For example, would the IRS really want you to pay taxes with a gift card?
  • Resist the pressure to act fast.
  • Monitor your mail and any online accounts you may have. If something bad is happening, it will be noticeable.
  • Check your credit reports

Everybody is entitled to one credit report per year from each of these providers:  Equixfax, Experian, and Transunion.

To start, visit this website

Information about free credit reports can be found at this FTC website

If you are a victim of identity theft,  another FTC website can help you report the theft and plan your recovery.

Scams and tricks to steal your money and your identity are always changing. One thing I will start doing is to check the FTC’s scam alerts page on a regular basis.  It is a great way to stay aware.