4 questions to avoid getting scammed
If you leave your purse or shopping bags in full view inside your car, you can expect them to be gone when you return. If you receive a check from someone you’ve never met, you can expect it to be counterfeit.
As sad as it may seem, when it comes to financial fraud and identity theft, it pays to be skeptical of others wanting something. And it pays to ask a few questions.
Scams are numerous, creative, and, by all accounts, highly effective, bilking consumers and businesses out of billions of dollars annually. There’s a scam for online dating and one for bogus tech support. There’s one for winning the lottery and one for secret shoppers. There’s even one for pet adoption.
“We want to believe no one would betray us, but criminals will do just about anything to talk you out of your money,” says Jim Fuher, security and fraud prevention manager at STCU, the Liberty Lake-based credit union. No matter how much we hear about fraud, people still fall for scams because they want to believe the offer is true.”
By taking time to first ask these four questions, however, Fuher says you can avoid getting trapped by most scams:
- Does the offer make sense?
- Is it too good to be true?
- Was I expecting this to happen?
- Would my banker, local law enforcement, or other trusted experts encourage me to pursue this deal?
Say, for instance, you receive a letter that you’ve won the lottery. The first question you should ask is, “I wasn’t expecting this. When did I buy a ticket?”
Or say someone claiming to be an IRS agent calls, demanding payment on back taxes or you go to jail! Your first question should be, “Does this make sense? Where’s the documentation to prove I owe money? I need your name and ID number, so I can verify your request at my local IRS office?”
“Few people wait to see if a check is counterfeit or if the claim is true,” Fuher says. “They buckle under pressure from the crook to act immediately.”
According to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research, nearly 13 million consumers become victims of fraud each year, racking up $16 billion in fraud and identity theft losses. Add in the cost to businesses to cover their losses and often yours, and the cost could be 10 times that, according to the periodic “True Cost of Fraud” study by LexisNexis.
Think you may have been scammed? Click here for a list of what to do.
If you think you may have been scammed, do the following:
- Notify the financial institution where you keep your accounts or charge cards.
- For identity theft, follow the stepsThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. provided by the Federal Trade Commission.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade CommissionThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU..
- Report scams to the Washington StateThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. or Idaho StateThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. attorney generals’ office.
- Alert the national credit bureaus –- EquifaxThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU., ExperianThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU., and TransunionThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU..
- If you get unsolicited email offer or spam, send the message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you receive materials about a foreign lottery, take it to your local postmaster.
Other websites you may find helpful:
Recovering from ID theftThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. FBI A to Z fraudsThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. Snopes “top scams” listThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. ScamGuard’s top 15 scamsThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. You can opt out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by contacting the nation’s three credit reporting companies at optoutprescreen.comThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU. or (888) 567‑8688. If you opt out, you may miss out on some offers of credit.
In addition to asking tough questions first, there are several steps you can take to proactively protect yourself from fraud and identity theft. Here are 10 from the Federal Trade Commission and STCU:
1. Lock it up.
Secure your information from roommates, friends, repairmen, or others who come into your home, office, or car. Shred everything you no longer need -– such as old bank statements, expired charge cards, and credit card offers.
2. Two cards only.
Stop using your car, purse, or laptop as a mobile office, where thieves can easily steal your account information and identity. Pare down your wallet to two essentials -– a driver’s license and a credit card, debit card, or checkbook.
3. Ask why?
Be slow to share your personal information. Instead, ask your employer, businesses you frequent, your child’s school, your doctor’s office, and so on why they need your private information? Ask how they will safeguard it. Chances are the information is not that essential.
4. Keep your private life off social media.
Don’t discuss travel plans, work schedules, and other life patterns on Facebook or other social media where stalkers and thieves could view. Never share your Social Security number, phone number, or account information.
5. Never trust a stranger.
We tell children to never get in a car with strangers, yet we accept unsolicited offers in the mail or email as if they could be trusted.That’s a mistake. Do not give out personal information by phone, mail, or email unless you first initiated contact or you know the person. Never pay fees first for the promise of a bigger payoff later, whether it’s for a loan, a job, a grant, lottery winnings, or a prize.
6. Do nothing under pressure.
If someone calls, demanding immediate payment, it’s probably a scam. If a buyer calls or emails, asking you to cash a check made out to more than the sale price, it’s a scam.
7. Never agree to deposit a check or wire money.
By law, you are responsible for any checks you deposit. No matter that you are the victim, if a check is counterfeit, you’re responsible to pay it back to the bank.
8. Don’t click on the link.
Never click on links in an email or call phone numbers included in the message from someone you do not know. Crooks are “phishingThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU.” for you to reveal sensitive information that they’ll later use to commit identity theft.
9. Deal direct when selling online.
According to CraigslistThis link opens a third-party website that is not affiliated with STCU., you can avoid 99 percent of all fraud attempts by dealing directly with a buyer or seller. If possible, meet the other party in person at a safe, public place such as your local police station, and transact all deals in cash.
10. Never go it alone.
Isolation makes you vulnerable. In the “granny scam,” for example, a young person calls a senior citizen claiming to be their grandson or granddaughter who needs money. They tell you not to notify their parents in an attempt to isolate you from learning that the call is a scam.
In addition, Fuher suggest that you regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts, looking for any checks or charges you did not make. And use strong passwords for your computers, credit cards, bank, and other accounts, changing them occasionally. (A strong password should include several letters, numbers, and symbols in an order that only you can remember.)
If you’re planning to travel, notify your financial institution in advance, so it can help compare your legitimate payment activity from any possible scams. And if you have any doubts about a check or offer, show it to your banker or law enforcement officer.
By exercising suspicion — and asking questions before you act — you’ll stay safe from the growing number of fraud and identity theft attempts.
Finally, look for free workshops on fraud and identity theft put on by local law enforcement, credit unions, or community centers. Go here for a list of STCU workshops.