Have you ever been startled by an urgent phone call or email from someone who sounds legit, but is demanding money or your personal information? If so, you’re not alone. Over 660,000 people reported being a victim of an imposter scam in 2019.
Hi everyone, it’s Deb from Royal’s Financial Education team, back with part three of our series on Identity Theft: Being Wise to Imposter Scams. (In case you missed them, part one can be found here and part two can be found here.) Before reading on about specific scams, watch our latest Money Talk in 60 seconds video to learn what imposter scams are.
Imposter scams work by playing on people’s fears and emotions about situations that matter to them and creating a sense of urgency to frighten the victim into making a rash decision. Scammers often pose as government agencies, family members, utility companies, tech support, or charities. I recently had a family member receive an alarming call from a scammer, claiming that he was her grandson and he needed money to get out of jail. He told her not to call his parents, because they’d be upset with him. Fortunately, my family member didn’t give the caller her credit card or bank account number, but she did go to the jail to see if her grandson was there because the scammer was so convincing.
Current events and crises create prime situations for scammers to con people out of their money and personal information. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has given scammers all sorts of new opportunities to deceive, promising everything from stimulus money to at-home test kits to new vaccines and cures. There have even been numerous fake drive-through testing sites where people are asked to either pay cash (one place was charging $240) or give the testers their Medicare or Social Security card to “verify their identity and confirm their enrollment in government healthcare for billing purposes.” If you need to be tested for COVID-19, call your healthcare provider first and make sure you know where their approved testing sites are located.
Other current events, such as election year, tax season, and natural disasters like floods, fires and tornados, also trigger a plethora of imposter scams. You may think that you’re contributing to a political candidate’s campaign or helping disaster relief efforts, but it’s important that you do your due diligence before donating money to someone who contacts you. Always verify a charity’s legitimacy through its official website. Even more appalling are the scammers who try to steal money from disaster victims by assuming the victim’s identity in order to claim money from relief funds meant to help them rebuild their lives.
With summer just around the corner, another scam to be aware of is utilities scams. Fraudsters call a home or business demanding payment for a supposed delinquent bill or threaten to terminate service. They especially like to do this in the summer when you rely on your air or in winter when you need heat. Some scammers pretend to be utility workers and show up at your home to inspect equipment or investigate a leak or conduct a “free” audit for energy efficiency. They instead try to charge you or get your credit card number or simply gain entry into your home to steal a vehicle or other valuables.
If you ever receive an urgent or unsolicited call, text, or email, replace panic with thought and reason. Never share your personal information or send money, gift cards, or make wire transfers to someone you don’t know. If you’re contacted by phone, hang up and discuss the situation with someone you trust or call the company back with the phone number listed on your account statement. Finally, don’t allow someone who shows up at your door claiming to be a worker to enter your home unless you contacted them first for assistance.
Knowledge is power. Be informed and keep safe. Royal Credit Union is always here to help!