Scams can happen to anyone, victim says

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Bolin

DUBOIS — A few weeks ago, Mary Weyer of Ferdinand lost almost $1,900 in a way she never expected to.

Weyer fell victim to a phishing scam. She got a phone call from a man masquerading as a Microsoft employee and claimed she owed the company $300. Weyer knew she didn’t, but the man was so convincing that when he told her he could prove her debt if she got on her computer, went to a website and typed in a code, she did. He took remote access of her computer and got access to her bank information.

“He did it without me realizing it,” Weyer said.

From there, the man held Weyer’s money captive and led the elderly woman along a nightmare chain of events that involved purchasing Google Play gift cards and passing along the card numbers to him. By the time Weyer’s children figured out what was going on and called the police, she’d lost $1,900.

Weyer’s story is one that Tri-State Better Business Bureau Community Outreach Coordinator Susan Bolin hears all too often from people of all age demographics, not just from senior citizens like Weyer. The stories are part of the reason Bolin travels the area offering presentations about common scams and how to avoid them. On Thursday, Bolin gave a presentation that focused on seniors at the Dubois Branch Library. Weyer was among the roughly 15 people in attendance.

Though not a government agency, the Better Business Bureau is one of several agencies where consumers can report scams. The BBB also has resources for people who have been victims of scams, and tracks scams to let people know which ones are most prevalent in their area and among their demographic.

According to the research, Bolin said, seniors are most likely to fall victim to romance, investment, travel/vacation, employment and tech support scams. In her presentation, Bolin broke down these scams, as well as several others.

Romance scams

When a perpetrator conducts a romance or sweetheart scam, they generally initiate a romance over the internet, say all the right things and prey on loneliness. They become overly attached quickly and are ready to jump into a relationship immediately. Amidst all the romance, however, there’s often a tell.

“Usually there’s a little mention somewhere of a situation in the background,” Bolin said.

That situation is generally something that requires money, such as a sick relative.

Once the relationship progresses a bit, the scammer asks for money or bank information. No matter what, Bolin said, don’t give it to them.

Bolin pointed out that often searching for the person on social media sites won’t be enough to verify if they are who they say they are. Often, scammers use fake profiles of real people.

“Social media makes it very easy to pull pictures and pieces of information,” Bolin said.

No matter how much you may want to help the person, Bolin said, don’t send the money.

Investment and health care scams

Perpetrators of these scams often offer above-market returns or savings on health care that are too good to be true. To avoid falling victim to these scams, Bolin suggests researching any companies mentioned — which can be done through the Better Business Bureau — asking for detailed contracts and having a trusted family member or friend review the contracts with you. Red flags include pressure to invest or make a purchase, overly complicated processes and insistence that the transaction be kept a secret.

Travel/Vacation Scams
These scams often play out similarly to investment and healthcare scams, often starting with an unsolicited phone call. Red flags here are high pressure sales tactics and deals that sound too good to be true.

Tips to avoid these include researching the company the caller claims to be from, asking lots of questions and checking to make sure the property they’re offering for your stay is real. If you do decide to make a purchase, Bolin said, use a credit card. That way, if it turns out to be a scam, you can dispute the charges with your credit card company. It’s not a foolproof safeguard, she said, but it’s better than sending cash or checks.

Employment scams

Employment scams start from fake want ads that often promise an immediate start date with no interview and very broad job descriptions.

“Be careful of someone who offers you a job they can give you today,” Bolin said. “Not many people will hire someone without sitting down to talk to them first.”

Employment scams also often ask you to pay in advance for something, such as software necessary for the job. Secret shopper scams are another common employment scam. In these, the perpetrators offer to send you a check with funds that you use to purchase and forward on items. The perpetrators pressure you to make purchases before the check clears, however, and the check generally bounces. By that time, though, you’ve already made the purchases and forwarded the merchandise.

To avoid employment scams, Bolin suggested researching the company that’s hiring and always asking for a contract before beginning any work.

Tech support scams

Tech support scams typically start one of two ways: Your computer freezes then gets a message to contact a certain phone number or you get an unsolicited phone call from someone claiming your computer is infected and offering to help.

Once the perpetrators have you convinced there is an issue, they gain remote access to your computer and steal financial information.

“Do not give them remote access,” Bolin said. “You don’t want them to gain access to your personal information that you have on your computer.”

If you run into a situation where your computer freezes, Bolin said, reboot it. If that doesn’t work, contact a technician you’ve found and vetted on your own.

What to do if you’re a victim

If you do fall victim to a scam, Bolin said, make sure you report it to law enforcement and other government agencies. The Better Business Bureau has a list of resources that consumers can use to file reports and get help. You’ll also need to work with your bank, credit companies and credit agencies to resolve any issues. The resolution, however, likely won’t include getting your money back.

To add extra layers of protection, you can freeze your credit through annaulcreditreport.com and have your bank add additional verification measures to your account.

The biggest piece of advice Bolin had for victims was not to feel ashamed and to get help.

“If something like this does happen, it’s easy to feel ashamed,” she said. “But these guys are so good that it’s happening to all of us.”

Weyer knows the shame scam victims feel firsthand, but she’s putting her emotions toward a positive goal and sharing her story so that others don’t fall victim, too.

“I felt like it was a scam, but I didn’t know what I could do to get out of it,” she said of her experience. “I want to let people know that it can happen.”




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