Cents & Sensibility — Protect yourself from fraud

Beth Peabody

Last month’s column considered whether making more money makes people happier. It urged readers to use humility, respect and curiosity to improve levels of happiness, especially in the workforce.

In keeping with the purpose of this column, “to help care for ourselves and care for those who depend on us,” this month’s topic acknowledges that most readers are trusting of others and therefore may generally assume that people will not try to take advantage of them.

However, readers should be aware of “scammers” who are trying to take advantage of your trust. These individuals continue to badger vulnerable people in multiple ways. To stop scammers from stealing your money and personal information, consider the information below provided by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA):

Scams come in many varieties, but they all work the same way. The scammers:

  • pretend to be from an agency or organization you know, to gain your trust (i.e.: SSA).
  • say there is a problem or may offer a prize.
  • pressure you to act immediately.
  • tell you to pay in a specific way, such as using gift cards.
  • demand secrecy.

To outwit these scammers and protect yourself, friends and family, listed below are a few tactics to address common scams. If you receive a suspicious call, text, email, social media message or letter from someone claiming to be from a trusted agency or institution:

  • Remain calm. If you receive a communication that causes a strong emotional response, take a deep breath.
  • Hang up or ignore the message. Do not click on links or attachments.
  • Discuss immediately with a trusted advisor or friend — scammers are demanding and intimidating.
  • Spread the word to protect your community from scammers.
  • Report the scam to state and local officials.

A relatively new scam campaign, combining computer pop-up messages and phone calls, may impact you. This advanced scheme can combine elements of technical support scams with impersonations of actual personnel from the U.S. Federal Reserve and financial custodians (such as Schwab, Fidelity, T. Rowe, etc.) in an attempt to obtain access to your assets and sensitive, personal data.

According to sources at Charles Schwab Inc., the new scam works as follows:

  • You receive a pop-up message appearing to be from either Microsoft or Apple warning that your computer has been compromised.
  • The pop-up instructs you to call a provided “tech support” number that actually connects you to a “fraudster.”
  • After speaking with the fraudster, you will be contacted by someone claiming to work for a custodian as a “security officer” who informs you that your account is “compromised.” The impersonator tells you that you must transfer your funds into an account in “federal custody,” and your money will be returned in three business days once your account has been “encrypted” for safety.
  • If you follow these instructions, your money may disappear.

To make the scam more believable, you may receive personalized letters in the mail that purport to be from the Fed, referencing the real name and titles of genuine personnel, tech company employees and FDIC analysts who are allegedly the same individuals that contacted you by phone. The letter encourages you to verify these individuals’ identities through their LinkedIn profiles, making the scam even more convincing.

As a reminder:

  • Never click on links or electronic calls based on instructions from a computer pop-up.
  • Always verify the phone number for tech support independently.
  • Never grant remote access to any account to anyone.

Scammers are also becoming even more sophisticated and can use programs to piece together audio that may sound like your loved one. To confirm that you are actually speaking with them, ask the question: “What is the code word?”

Action item for June: Consider establishing and sharing a “code word” with family and friends to prevent scammers from taking advantage.

Beth Stegner Peabody, CEO of Stegner Investment Associates, is a graduate of St. Agnes School and Sacred Heart Academy.

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