Give A Scam The Flim-Flam – Parts 1&2
We recently spoke with Natalie Snider, State Advocacy Director for AARP Virginia, who gave us some advice and tips to avoid scams, especially during the holiday shopping season.
“We know that seniors are particularly targeted, because people see them as vulnerable individuals, but scammers are looking to rip off anybody that they can.”
“So the first thing that pops into mind is cyber-shopping scams. And as you know, I mean COVID is keeping us home in record numbers right now and so while we’re a society that loves to online shop, right now online shopping is having its heyday, and now that we’re in the holiday season it’s in high gear. So we want to make sure that, you know, if you’re online and you’re shopping you see this great deal. You want to make sure before you click on it that it’s legitimate. Some of the things that you want to be on the lookout for, and maybe be suspicious of, are really big discounts – anything bigger than maybe 50 or 55%. You see something that’s you know 75 – 80 – 85% off – pretty sure it’s not legitimate. You need to do your research and find out for sure, but I would, I would be wary of things like that.”
She continued, “You want to look out for irregular contact information. So if there’s an email address, that doesn’t end with the retailer name, say it ends in Yahoo or Gmail, I would be on the lookout for those – that’s generally a good sign that is not legitimate. You want to look at the web address – so web addresses that are super complex, those are kind of a good sign that it might be a scam, if the website doesn’t include the retailer’s name, or if it doesn’t start with HTTPS. So HTTP, that’s at the start of all of our web addresses. That little “s” at the end, means that it’s a secure site. So if you are online, and you’re going to enter any of your sensitive personal information or you’re going to pay for something with a credit card, you want to make sure that it’s an HTTPS, so that it’s a secure site. If it’s not, navigate away from that site and find somewhere else to do your shopping.”
“A couple of other things that people need to be aware of – scammers know that people are expecting a lot of packages at this time of year. And if you’ve ordered something, you know that you have a package on the way, and I started getting these phishing texts, claiming to be from FedEx or UPS, and it’s not, it’s definitely a scam. So sometimes they’ll text you, sometimes they’ll email you, they’ll pretend to be the delivery company, and it’ll give you a link, it’ll say “hey track your package here”- don’t click the link. Please don’t click the link – it could load malicious software onto your device, or it could lure you into sharing sensitive information, like your bank account number or your credit card number. So if you get something like that, my advice is either visit the retailer site, where you actually purchased that item or go directly to the delivery website, if you know who is supposed to be delivering your package and track it there. And that way, you know that you’re getting legitimate information.”
“And then also, if you’ve ordered packages, watch out for what we call “porch pirates.” These are people who walk around the neighborhood and steal packages directly off of people’s porches. And we see a big, big increase in that around holiday time, with all of these packages are being delivered, and I think in general during COVID, porch pirates have been on the rise because people have been home for nine months, and as I said, online shopping is having a heyday. So, if you can, arrange with the delivery company to put that package somewhere that is hidden. When you order something online, 99% of the time, there’ll be a little box on there that says delivery instructions. You can type in there, you know, “put the package around back by the garage, put it on the back porch, hide it under the couch on the front porch.” But if you don’t have somewhere where you can have a package delivered, so that it’s put out of the way, so that people walking by don’t see it, your best bet is just to have it held at the delivery facility, and then go there and pick it up directly.”
Stay tuned for more discussion of scams in Part Two of this story.
In Part Two of our conversation with Natalie Snider, State Advocacy Director for AARP Virginia, she touches on more common scams and how to avoid them.
“One thing that I would like to point out, are gift card scams – we see more and more of these. You know when you go in the store, say you go into CVS or you go to Target, they have those big racks – there’s gift cards for every restaurant retailer imaginable on those racks. When you’re purchasing a gift card from something like that, be really careful. What you want to look for and to make sure that that packaging hasn’t been tampered with, or that the activation code hasn’t been revealed. If it has, take it to the cashier and say “this one needs to be put back because it might have been tampered with.” So make sure that it’s intact. Scammers can monitor those cards, and as soon as purchased and activated, if they have it tracked, they’ll just drain the funds from it. So by the time you get it to the person who you’re giving it to, there’s no money on it – they go to use it, and there’s nothing there. And that money is long gone, it’s non-recoverable. So if you’re going to buy gift cards, I think it’s best to buy it directly from the retailer or the restaurant or other issuers that you want to buy it from, if you can, whether that’s online or otherwise.”
“And sometimes, you’ll get people to call, and they’ll urge you to pay some made up debt by purchasing a gift card. I know I get called frequently, claiming to be the Social Security Administration to pay, “this is the Social Security Administration, your account has been suspended, press one to speak to someone,” and what they’re trying to do is, they’ve got this made up fee that you’re going to have to pay. And a lot of times they’ll point you to a nearby retailer and ask you to purchase gift cards in the amount that they claim you owe and then they’ll ask you to provide the card number and PIN. So, my advice is don’t do it, right? It’s not the Social Security Administration, it’s not the IRS, it’s not law enforcement. Just hang up the phone, and then you can go online to the Federal Trade Commission, and report it there. And that website is www.ftc.gov.”
More than once, I have received e-mails from friends or family members, claiming to be in trouble or stranded and needing monetary assistance.
“You know I’ve received those two. And, on occasion, it’s from somebody who I do have frequent contact with. But occasionally it will be from somebody who’s just buried in my contact list, and I’ll get this random email, and I’m like “that cannot be right, like I haven’t talked to this person in two years why would they be emailing me this” – that’s a pretty sure sign of a scam. So I would just delete the email, but if it’s from someone who you know, and you’re like “oh god, this happened, here they are stuck in Tijuana with nobody,” call that person, or open another window and send them an email directly from your account. I wouldn’t click on anything, I think those are definitely things to be wary of. There’s something called the Grandparent Scam that particularly targets older folks, where somebody will do that, they’ll claim to be somebody’s grandson or granddaughter, you know, “hey granddad I’m stuck, I need money,” and they’ll ask you to wire money or send gift cards, or something like that, but those kinds of things are always something to be wary of, I would immediately think I need to contact this person directly and just make sure that this is legit.”