How to avoid scams; more victims of sweepstakes scams during the pandemic
We’ve all been busy and in a bit of fog during this pandemic – trying to cope with work, life, and in some cases home schooling – it’s easy to get sidetracked.
This is exactly what crooks have always relied on: you’re busy multitasking or just a little distracted while answering a phone call or looking at an email. Then, they’ll ask you to provide them with information to avoid unauthorized charges they contact you about or sweepstakes you’ve won, among other tactics.
Here are examples of a few scam calls or emails you might receive that I myself have received or heard from readers:
• An e-mail informing you of an unauthorized debit on one of your accounts.
• A text message about an unauthorized debit or an upcoming delivery that you didn’t expect to confirm.
• A caller from (name agency or company, IRS, Medicare, Amazon, Apple) wishing to confirm or troubleshoot your account or a variety of other reasons.
These are all things that should make you take a break and regroup. The crooks are hoping that we will just quickly “click” on that link in the email or give them relevant information so that they can then steal the money.
Local reader and former colleague Charlene Nevada recently emailed me about a series of emails she received confirming the renewal of her online subscription for over $ 500.
Nevada, who spent 35 years at the Beacon Journal in a variety of roles including reporter, mainstream writer and numerous publishing jobs, wanted to warn readers of “scams of different flavors.”
“I like to think I’m smarter than the average senior, but that can shake my confidence (until I verify my Visa accounts online),” she said.
You should be skeptical of any call, email, or text message that claims to be from your credit card company, the IRS, or any business or agency. They usually aren’t going to cold call you if there’s something wrong. Hang up or do not communicate with the caller or email. Then independently search for a company or agency phone number to ask if there is an issue with your account. If so, they’ll direct you to the right people.
But most likely, if you take a closer look at the email, the sender’s email address is a Gmail account or something that isn’t from the company or agency. And I can tell you categorically that the IRS and other agencies will not call you to tell you that there is a problem. They also won’t call you to tell you that someone will come and arrest you if you don’t comply. If something is seriously wrong, the authorities will show up at your doorstep.
Likewise, price scams are just as bad. These scammers try to convince you that you have won something, but you have to pay them first to claim part of our prize or pay the taxes up front.
The Better Business Bureau warns consumers to never pay money to claim a prize. If someone asks for money before giving out a prize, it is probably a scam.
Sweepstakes scams cost victims more during pandemic
The results of a Better Business Bureau study released a few days ago show that nationwide sweepstakes and lottery scams have resulted in greater financial losses for victims during the COVID pandemic -19 compared to the previous three years, especially for the elderly.
The research is an update of the BBB’s 2018 Comprehensive Investigative Study, Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How “Winners” Lose Millions Through an Evolving Fraud.
Over the past three years, there has been a 16% decrease in complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI Internet Crime Complaints Center, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center. However, the financial losses reported to the three agencies increased significantly in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, with the FTC recording a more than 35% increase in reported dollar losses.
“This updated research highlights how these scams work and the importance of educating the elderly and others who may be susceptible to these scams,” said Steve Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist. “Because these crooks are so good at what they do, anyone could be a victim.”
The elderly are the main target
People over 55 continue to be the primary targets of sweepstakes, lotteries and prizes scams, accounting for 72% of fraud reports for these types of scams received by BBB Scam Tracker over the past three years. Among older consumers who reported to the BBB that they were being targeted, 91% said they had lost money. Adults over 55 lost an average of $ 978, while those aged 18 to 54 lost an average of $ 279, according to Scam Tracker reports.
Factors such as the containment and isolation that many older people experienced during COVID-19 may have helped fuel the increase in casualties, the BBB said. Other factors that may contribute to the particular vulnerability of some older people include mental decline and relative financial stability, as noted in the 2018 BBB study.
But very few victims of raffle scams seemed to be the stereotype of “fragile confinement that a lot of people envision,” said Baker, the author of the 2018 study. Instead, Baker said that the victims interviewed were people more interested in using the imaginary gains to help their families or communities than in spending them on themselves.
Beware of scammers trying to build trust
Anthony Pratkansis, professor emeritus at the University of California, warns that scammers often pretend to be a friend, authority or person in need.
“Scammers often talk to victims every day, grooming them and building trusting relationships,” Pratkansis said. “They take careful notes about the victim’s family and other aspects of their life, and like romance frauds, try to isolate victims from their traditional support structure. The crooks also use different voices, sounding authoritarian to one point, speaking as a partner to others, or even acting as a supplicant asking for help to finally bring up the prize.
Don’t become a money mule
According to data from BBB Scam Tracker, sweepstakes scammers cater to a variety of channels. They can masquerade as well-known raffles such as Publishers Clearing House or a state lottery. The “winner” is asked to pay taxes or fees before the prize can be awarded.
The FTC notes that more and more people are being urged to buy gift cards to pay for these fees, in addition by wire transfer or bank deposit or even cash.
In reality, the price does not exist, which people might not realize until they pay thousands of dollars that cannot be recovered. Some victims have even become mules who receive and transfer money from other victims of lottery fraud.
Shortly after his wife’s death in 2020, a Michigan man in the 80s was contacted by crooks who told him he had won second place in a popular contest, taking home 2.5 million dollars. dollars, a brand new luxury car and gold medallions. He then started talking to the crooks on the phone daily, contacting them even after his daughter changed her phone number. He withdrew money from his retirement account and opened a separate account, sending a total of $ 72,000 in cash to an address in Mississippi before his daughter cut off contact between him and the crooks.
How to report fraud
If you believe you have been the target of lottery / contest fraud, file a report with:
- BBB Scam Tracker, www.bbb.org/scamtracker or contact your local BBB
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or call 877-FTC-Help
- The United States Postal Inspection Service has experts to help chronic victims of raffle scams and can be contacted at 1-877-876-2455 or www.uspis.gov
- Senate Subcommittee on Aging Fraud: Call 855-303-9470; or www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline to leave a request online for someone to contact you
- Adult protection services. Local help is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice for vulnerable or elderly victims
Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ To see her most recent stories and reviews, visit www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher