No one wants to become a victim of fraud or fall prey to a scam, but scamming is big business and it happens every minute of every day.

In 2017, almost 91 million dollars were reported lost through fraud and scams in the United States. Many people didn’t even report when they were scammed, so the numbers are likely even higher.  Scammers are getting more and more ingenious every day, trying to get your money. 

Rule number one: if it sounds too good to be true, it is!  Free vacation, free gift cards, free money, computer maintenance and free support, these things don’t exist. 

So how do you save yourself from getting scammed?  Here are some tips to remember. 

Avoiding Telemarketing Scams:

 “Hi, this is Julie (obviously a prerecording) I’m calling about your product registration”...or secondly, “Good day, this is John with Windows Microsoft (a real person) and we have detected a problem with your computer.  If you would allow me to remotely access your computer then I can conduct a free scan to tell you what the problem is.”

These calls are not only annoying; they can be potentially dangerous to your identity and your financial accounts. If you have a smartphone, you can block those calls directly through the number that came into your phone. With that being said, Robocalls are set up to choose another number to call from once you have blocked the first number. Robocaller scams are smart too.  They call from numbers that show up as calls from your area code so you think it’s someone you may know.  A telemarketer can “spoof” their number which means the information that comes through your caller ID may say that the call is from the power company when in reality it’s a scammer. 

What can you do with these annoying calls?

Place your phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. (1-888-382-1222 or go to www.donotcall.gov).  Do Not Call Registry is a federal government site that is safe easy to use.  Registering your phone numbers, whether cell or home phone can reduce the number of calls you receive. You can also use Apps that will limit these calls such as Nomorobo and Robo Blocker, but many of these have a monthly fee.

 Hang up. Don’t worry about being rude, these people are trying to get your money for nothing, it’s okay to be rude. Don’t say anything, especially to a robocaller. Some of these calls come in like this, “Hi.  This is Julie, can you hear me okay?”  It’s instinctual to say, “Yes.”  DON’T DO THIS. This registers your “voice print” so if the scammer wants to “put in” some sort of order on your behalf, they have you saying “Yes” to whatever they want.

Don’t answer at all.  If it is someone you know they should leave a message.  If you answer an unknown robocall it lets the “caller” know that your number is an active number that has a human attached to it.  This could actually lead to more unsolicited calls.

Verify the information you are being told.  If you answer and are being told you need to give money right away because your power is going to be cut off, you owe the IRS taxes, or your grandson (and they will use his real name) needs bail because he’s been arrested, you need to verify what you are being told before doing anything.  These kinds of callers try to play on your emotions so that you will do whatever the person on the phone tells you to do.  Some of them will get you to go buy ITunes or Google Play Gift Cards and call them back to give them the numbers.  Though the IRS doesn’t deal in ITunes cards, people still fall for it.  If you speak with anyone on the phone, tell them you will call them back.  Call the jail and/or power company to verify the information you were given. 999 times out of 1000 you will quickly discover that the call was a scammer, but don’t call the number back.  If you do, you have played into the hands of the scammer and they will do whatever it takes to get your money.

DO NOT GIVE ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION. No credit card information, no social security number, any personal information or any organizational information that you are involved in such as church members or co-workers.

Safety on the Internet:

Here are some general tips for keeping yourself safe while surfing the web.

Keep your computer operating systems and protective software up to date. Never click on any pop up that tells you that you have a problem with your computer or that a virus has infected it.  This is a quick way to get your computer locked up and end up paying someone a lot of money for protection and IT work you didn’t need until they hacked your computer. And once they hack in, you can become a victim of identity theft as well.

Create strong, random passwords using characters, numbers and capital letters.  Don’t use personal names or numbers such as phone numbers, SSNs, or birthdays.  Don’t write your passwords down and keep them in your wallet or near your computer.  You might want to consider a password manager, such as OneSafe App, to manage your passwords.  This way you only have to remember one password and have access to all the other ones. Verify that the password protection app is secure and valid.

Email Safety: Don’t send confidential information such as credit card numbers or SSNs through email. Never open an attachment or click on a link from an email, no matter how official it looks.  Verify the information before doing anything or at least type the web link in yourself to see if it is official. The link in the email may be official but it has a virus attached. Emails that state you have won money; you can make a lot of easy money or plead for help are usually scams.

Social Media Safety: Limit your personal information. Be careful of negative posts; they can lead to lawsuits from those they involve. Use common sense when posting pictures.  Once it’s been posted, it becomes public domain.  This could come back to haunt you. Ask permission to post pictures of others. Don’t post “vacation” pictures until you return...this alerts people you aren’t home. Keep your posts bland and non-personal.  Don’t respond to rude or harassing posts.  You can change your settings so you don’t see the offensive post/response or just “unfollow” that person.  Set your security settings tightly so that not everyone surfing the social site can see your posts.

Online shopping Safety: Only shop merchants you trust.  Consider using a separate low-limit credit card for shopping online, this way if you get scammed, the scammer won’t get much.  Search new merchants through the BBB before buying from them.  Make sure you understand the merchant's refund policy so that you don’t get stuck; some don’t do refunds.

Different types of scams you might come across:

Sweepstakes Scams:  Toss anything you get unsolicited in the mail that says you’re a winner, no matter how real it looks.  Never send money to receive a prize; this is illegal.  If you actually won something, no payment should be necessary.  Though you will be required to pay taxes later.

Government Scams:  Legitimate government or law enforcement will not demand money or personal information over the phone.  It’s okay if someone “official” calls you on the phone; you have the right to request verification.  Many times the Burlington Police Officers have to contact victims back after they call 911. You can verify the identity of the officer.   If the caller isn’t willing to wait, there’s a problem. Verify anything that looks official coming through the mail, such as from the IRS.

Health Care Scams:  Miracle cures don’t exist and many personal testimonies are fake and so are the doctors that back the product.  Don’t sign up for any discount health or drug plan without checking with your doctor, pharmacist or the Attorney General’s Office to verify their legitimacy.

Charity Scams:  Many charities sound like the real thing, such as the American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Association.  They sound the same, but one is real and one is not. Ask the caller what percentage of your money goes to toward fundraising.  Be wary of messages requesting that you keep your promise to pledge when have never pledged to fund.

Home repair scams.  Don’t accept or be pressured to accept any work from someone who shows up at your door.  Especially if the contractor says it has to be done right away or he has left over “tar” to pave your driveway.  You’ll end up paying for a shoddy job and for something that you really didn’t need.  Scammers hit hard after a natural disaster, charging way too much for simple work, or posing as government officials or insurance adjusters.

Identify Theft Protection:

Request a free credit report annually: There are three nationwide credit bureaus that you can access, so technically you can get a free report every 4 months by requesting your yearly report from a different agency.

Protect your SSN: Don’t carry it with you.  If asked to give it, ask why, who will have access and will it be kept confidential.

Destroy documents and computer files you no longer need, including junk mail that might have personal information. Invest in a good shredder.  This works better than “identity theft” stamp rollers.

Monitoring your finances: Watch your billing cycle and pay attention to what shows up on your credit card bills.  If charges are posted that you did it make, notify the billing company/credit card immediately. Photocopy (front and back) all your credit cards and keep them in a safe, locked place.  This way if you lose them or they are stolen you have all the information and the contact numbers for the companies.

Protect your mail: Consider placing outgoing mail that contains your personal information in a locked blue postal service box and consider using a locked mailbox at your home so that your mail cannot be stolen. Make sure that you pick up all packages that are delivered to your home as soon as possible. If it’s not possible, get a neighbor to do it so that they won’t be stolen from your porch.  Shred any incoming mail you don’t want that has your personal information on it.

Burlington Area Scams:

Here are some scams that have happened in the Burlington area of which you might want to be aware:

A call from "Duke Energy" that shows up as such on caller ID.  The caller advises that a crew is headed to your home to cut off your power because you have not paid your bill.  You are requested to go purchase gift cards and the caller will call you back to get the numbers.  Remember, Duke Energy doesn’t take payment in gift cards.

A call or email comes in stating that you have received a free night’s stay at the Marriott.  All you have to do is send money for handling fees.  Remember, if you have won something legitimate, you will not have to pay for it.  

A call from an “attorney” stating that one of your relatives (using their name) has been arrested in another state.  The caller requests you to send money using ITunes or other gift cards. Verify this information before doing anything; the caller is trying to play on your emotions and may call in the middle of the night.  This is highly used on older adults, stating that it is their grandchild that has been arrested.

A call from the “Police Department” (or other law enforcement agency) from a sergeant, lieutenant of detective stating that you have warrants on you and you can get out of them if you provide them money through gift card numbers.  Law Enforcement officials don’t ask for money and don’t handle any money dealing with warrants.  With that being said, the magistrate’s office doesn’t accept gift cards.

You receive a call about your computer virus software company is going out of business and the caller (who says they are from your company such as ScanGaurd, MaAfee or Norton) need to get a refund to you.   They will ask for personal information and request to access your computer.  Once they do this, they enter a larger amount into your account stating there is a minimum they can handle.  You are then asked to send the “balance” to them. Your deposit never shows and you’re out the money you send.

You receive a text from a good friend about a good deal, investment or grant with a number to contact.  All you have to do is send a processing fee and a check for the amount will be sent to you.  It turns out that the friend’s phone had been hacked and it was a scam to get money sent to someone else. Always contact your friend directly, by phone, to verify the information that was sent.

You list an item on Craig’s List for sale.  The buyer wants to give you more money than you are supposed to get an item stating that they need some cash.  You are asked to deposit or wire the extra money back. The payment that was made to you is bogus and you are out the money you sent to them.

You notice that your computer is acting funny and you go to the internet to locate an “IT” service to assist you.  The link looks real and you contact the company.   Once you make contact, the computer representative is requesting money, credit card or gift cards for service.  Always check the web-address and verify the address before contacting them. Many look official but are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

You receive a call stating it is the IRS and you are about to go to jail for delinquent taxes.  You are requested to get ITunes or Google Play cards to make a payment.  The IRS does not operate this way.  If you are being audited, you will not receive this type of call.

You decide to make a purchase from an individual through, LetGo, Craig’s List or another personal marketplace site.  The seller requests that you send the money first, and then you never get your item.