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Financial scams: Beware of strangers offering help

Written by Diane Archer

Financial scams abound. Scammers prey on people, particularly older people, in all kinds of ways — first building trust, then offering “help” and then asking for money.  Here are a few things you should never do.

1.  Do not give strangers your Social Security number, credit card information or bank account information under any circumstances. A scammer might call or e-mail you to say you have a problem that he can fix for you if you provide him with some financial information. If you don’t know the caller, you should not disclose this information.  If in doubt, ask the caller for his name and phone number, discuss the issue with someone you trust, or call your local police department for advice.

2.  Don’t wire money to anyone without first checking with someone you trust. A scammer might call or e-mail, impersonate a family member, often a grandchild, and claim she is in an emergency situation and needs an immediate wire transfer of money. With new technology, scammers can sound exactly like one of your family members or friends. If you are inclined to help, before doing anything, ask the caller for her name and phone number. Then, call the person you believe you just spoke with using the number you have in your contacts. You will likely find that the person who called you is an impostor. Note: If you wire money, you cannot get it back, even if it is to a fraudster.

4. Do not buy gift cards to help someone claiming to be a friend or family member in need. A scammer might call, impersonate a family member and claim that she has been arrested and needs money for bail.  The scammer will then put someone else on the phone who claims to be a police officer. The alleged police officer asks the victim for thousands of dollars of gift cards. The alleged police officer gives a phone number to the victim and asks for a call back with the gift card numbers. Again, you can verify that you are being scammed if you call your family member directly using the contact information in your personal records.

5.. Do not give strangers access to your computer. A scammer might call or e-mail you, claim he is from a computer company, and offer to clean up your computer files or remove a computer virus. The scammer is trying to gain remote access to the personal information stored on your computer files, which he can do if you give him your computer passwords.

6. Do not pay money to a caller, claiming to be an IRS agent or police officer from the IRS.  The scammer will say you have a past due tax balance, which must be paid immediately. If it is not paid, the scammer says, a team of officers will come to your home to arrest you.

These are classic scams. And unsuspecting people lose millions of dollars a year to these scams. The Federal Trade Commission shut down two computer scam operations that allegedly tricked people out of $120 million.

If you are wondering whether an email you receive is for real or the person on the other end of the phone is telling you the truth, go to www.snopes.com.  Type in the nature of the email or phone call you received and see if it pops up. Snopes should tell you if it is a common scam. WISER, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, offers a checklist of common scams.

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