By Karen D. Lorentz
Editor’s note: This is part two of information and tips shared at the AARP Scam Jam held recently in Rutland.
Scams are perpetrated by smart and organized con artists who make it “their business to get your money. They only have to be successful once,” Philip Latvis, the executive director of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR), warned of scams’ potential to wreak havoc in peoples’ lives.
A panel of DFR officials explained how scammers work, and succeed, by using their victim’s emotional state and exerting pressure to respond immediately — wire money now or invest right away because it’s a limited opportunity.
It’s hard to resist news that you’ve won a lottery or you can make a killing in an investment.
But take time to think about what is being said, verify the facts, and don’t rush to send anyone money, they advised.
Likewise, fraudsters prey upon emotions when they impersonate a family member pretending to be in trouble and urgently need money. To prevent being taken in by this scam, have a prearranged family code word that only they would know and ask for it. This is a good strategy because AI makes it possible for the imposter to imitate the voice of the person they’re pretending to be, thus easily fooling you to send money right away.
Having a trusted person with whom one can discuss a money request — whether for an emergency or investment — is a good way to prevent a mistake. If someone does wire money and then realizes it was a scam, an ACH transfer may be able to be stopped (money recovered) within 72 hours so fast reporting is necessary.
Identity theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information — social security number, birth date, credit card or bank account numbers, or medical information. The fraudsters can then use your identity to pay bills, obtain loans, open new accounts, or empty your bank accounts.
To protect against identity theft, check credit reports, credit card bills, medical and bank statements frequently; and if you don’t recognize charges or medical treatments, get more information. Prevention includes requesting fraud alerts and freezing one’s credit reports at the three credit agencies so no one can take out a mortgage or loan in your name. Obtain a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can get help with steps to take by calling Vermont’s Consumer Assistance Program (800-649-2424) or visiting Ago.Vermont.gov/cap.
Investment frauds require people to be wary of high return and minimal risk promises. Joe Canavan, a securities officer with DFR, explained that ‘confidence men’ work to gain your trust. They may be a stranger or an influential person you know as was the case of those who trusted Bernie Madoff. The “pig butchering” tactic engages a person so they trust the fraudster and invest. Then a return of some money causes a victim to invest more — they’ve “fattened the pig” as the victim loses a larger amount.
To prevent this situation, check credentials to see if they are a registered investment broker and if there are any complaints against them (finra.org or hotline 800-289-9999). Check an investment firm’s registration with the Secretary of State. Never volunteer financial information, learn to say no, and report scams to authorities, the panelists advised.
For help with investment scams, contact the DFR asap: 833-337-4685 or 802-828-3307. (https://dfr.vermont.gov/consumers/file-complaint/banking). Report to the Federal Trade Commission 1-877-382-4357 (ReportFraud.ftc.gov) and to the FBI.
Learn more about these and other scams—like charity scams or cryptocurrency frauds that are hard to trace—at the AARP website aarp.org/fraud. The AARP Fraud Watch NetworkTM is a free resource for all and offers free emailed (fraud) Watchdog Alerts. Get help or report scams by calling 877-908-3360 or visiting aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.