Safety tips offered to avoid scams

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star

It seems scams are everywhere these days. On the AARP website, more than 50 different types of scams are listed in the Fraud Resource Center – including Coronavirus scams, romance scams, charity scams, and jury duty scams, just to name a few.

In April, the Shawnee Senior Center hosted an internet safety workshop to give area seniors resources and tips to avoid falling victim to scams.

“I think internet safety and awareness is crucial to help our seniors (or anyone really) to protect their finances and emotional well-being,” Michelle Tribble, the volunteer who led the workshop, said.

She said a person might encounter scams anywhere from “social media, dating websites, email, phone, or even old-fashioned snail mail.”

Tribble offered advice to avoid falling victim to scams.

The first red flag, she said, is if the person is located outside of the country or claims to work for a job that would easily explain breaks in communication, such as being in the military, working on an oil rig, or any job that would place them in a remote location.

“These breaks in communication are often used as a victim becomes suspicious or refuses to send money because once that victim has lost communication and their emotions take over as the feeling of abandonment sets in, they become more vulnerable again,” Tribble said, adding it is a manipulation technique scammers sometimes use.

She added that living outside of the country also gives scammers an excuse for not meeting victims in person. Often, she said, scammers will make plans to meet in person, but always have things that prevent the meetings from actually happening. Reasons such as hospital stays or sick relatives, especially, are designed to manipulate victims to make them think their heart instead of their head.

She stressed that it's especially important not to send money to strangers by wire or with gift cards. These forms of currency are difficult to trace, and there is no protection for the person sending the money. Tribble said someone refusing one type of currency and instead insisting on something less traceable, like a gift card, should throw up alarm bells for the person thinking of sending the money.

“It is so important to never send anyone money that you have not met in person,” Tribble said. “Even if you have heard their voice or seen pictures of them you cannot really know who someone is until you have met them in person.”

Similarly, she advised not to deposit unexpected checks into an account before consulting your bank.

Another red flag Tribble mentioned is a stranger who is “almost immediately professing a deep love and friendship or are claiming to be a long-lost family member.”

She said this sort of scam often leads to the scammer asking for money for different emergencies, while also asking the victim not to tell anyone about them.

“This is because they do not want anyone else to evaluate the situation that does not feel pressured or emotionally attached because they know these people will see them for what they are,” Tribble said.

She said scammers will sometimes ask people to email or text them rather than continue to interact on the platform where they first met.

“This is done because the accounts they create on that platform are phishing accounts and they reach out to as many people as they can on those accounts until that account is reported and removed,” she said. “They know the account they contact you from is on borrowed time, so they need another way to communicate with you where they know they do not have to worry about being censored.”

For those who suspect they might be dealing with a scammer, Tribble suggested slowing the dialogue down.

“These scammers will do anything to make their victim feel pressured into making decisions based on emotion,” she said, giving examples such as family or travel emergencies. “All these things tend to be of an urgent nature and if they can get you thinking with your heart and not your head, we become a much easier target.”

If a caller or an email claims to be from a bank, government agency, utility company, or other type of business, Tribble said to be skeptical and not use any number or email address they provide. Instead, she said, look up the information on Google and only use phone numbers and contact information from the official website the person claims to be associated with.

“Do not trust a number the person you are calling gives you because if they are a scammer, they will not give you the correct number. So ask the name of the institution, why they are calling, and let them know you will find their number and call the back,” she said. “Do not be afraid to waste someone's time. If someone like that is calling you then you can bet they're being legitimately paid and should not mind you taking extra precautions. The only ones who will get upset about it are the scammers who only get paid if they successfully steal your money. Do not let someone rush you or make you feel pressured into making a decision you might regret later because you were trying to be polite. It is not impolite for you to take precautions to protect yourself.”

Anyone who does suspect they have been the victim of a scam, she said, should contact their bank to find out if there is any way to retrieve their money. Scams can also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

She also urged for people to reach out to others and seek help rather than trying to deal with problems alone.

“The most important thing is to slow down and talk to a trusted friend or family member about it,” Tribble said. “Cashiers who work in establishments that sell gift cards or wire money are often trained to help prevent fraud because this problem is so prevalent, so talk to a cashier if you need a sounding board. Also, your financial institution would be more than happy to help you avoid being scammed.”

Tribble said she recently caught and reported a scammer who had created a fake profile for one of her Facebook friends and then requested to add her. She asked the fake account to text her, knowing if it were truly her friend they would have her number, and when they couldn't, she had proof they were not the person they were pretending to be.

“These people will also do this with family members,” she said. “So if something does not seem right, trust your gut. Do not be afraid to question people or to report them.”

More information can also be found on AARP regarding different types of scams by going to www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/

Some red flags that a person might be a scammer:

• Living out of the country or claiming to work a job that could easily explain breaks in communication

• Asking for money, especially in a form that is not easily traceable or recoverable, such as gift cards

• Professing deep love right away or claiming to be a long-lost family member

• Asking not to be mentioned to friends or family members

• Quickly asking to move from the platform where they were met and talk in email or text instead

Never:

• Send money to a stranger, especially wired or in the form of gift cards

• Deposit an unexpected check without first consulting your bank

What to do if you suspect you're dealing with a scammer:

• Don't let yourself be rushed into decisions. Scammers use emotional manipulation to get people to think with their hearts rather than their heads.

• Don't trust phone numbers or emails provided by potential scammers. Use Google to look up contact information directly from the source.

• If you think you've been the victim of a scam, call your bank to see if there are ways to get your money back.

• Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter for The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1