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How to Say 'Bah Humbug' to Financial Scammers

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unfortunately, with the holidays fast-approaching, this is also a time when scammers target people, knowing their hectic schedules may render them far too busy to notice the “red flags.” Scammers and crooks don’t take time off for the holidays — in fact, they would rather take advantage of your bank account and holiday spirit now more than ever.

We all know, “If it’s too good to be true than it usually is” mentality is a good one; but nowadays, scamming has become so sophisticated that even the most astute among us may fall prey. After all, our trusting nature makes it very easy to believe that smooth-talking, charming voice on the other end of a phone, or even that professional-looking man standing at your front door with that fixating smile. But beware!

As my father used to say, “Trust but verify!” In other words, trust your inner voice when something seems too good to be true and verify the situation or the “pitch.” If something doesn’t seem right, turn and walk away. Be safe not sorry.

If you think you would never fall for a scam, think again. My husband, a smart but cynical kind of guy, received a phone call just the other day where the caller excitedly told my husband, “Congratulations! You have just won the Publishers Clearing House Contest! We are in your area and want to stop by and give you your check. We have the camera crew with us and all we need to do is set up!”

For an instant, my husband was elated, thinking he’s about to get a knock on the front door and see a bouquet of balloons and an oversized check worth thousands of dollars. But in a flash that vision evaporated when the man continued by saying, “All I need you to do is wire me $250, which covers the expenses incurred for the paperwork and TV crew.” And just like that, the scam was revealed.

Obviously my husband knew to hang up the phone. But unfortunately, there are many vulnerable people in our communities who might not hang up that phone...who might get swept up in that jubilant moment and think to themselves, “It's only $250, look at what I will get in return — a big fat check for the rest of my life!”

Scammers can be true disguise artists. They might pose as Microsoft tech support, Federal IRS Agents, and even presidents of fake charitable organizations just to gain your trust. The list is endless, but the solution is very clear: Never, ever give anyone you do not know or trust any personal or financial information, such as bank account information, social security numbers, or valuable passwords.

If phone scammers don’t get you, email scams just might! Today’s email scams look incredibly real on the surface — cloaking themselves with a subject line and sender name that resemble companies we know and trust. You might see something like, “Noticed suspicious activity,” “There is a problem with your account,” or even "Here's a great coupon offer for being a valuable customer.”

These emails often use a generic greeting and may have misspellings, incomplete words, or a call-to-action for you to enter some personal information. A good rule-of-thumb is to always look closely at the URL of the email sender. If the URL looks odd and doesn’t include the actual website of the business, it’s likely a scam. Always remember: if they’re requesting a payment, a password, or access to your accounts, you should be wary and contact the company directly with your concern. NEVER click on an embedded link in the email. And finally, to prevent email scams from infiltrating your inbox, check with a computer services professional about installing cybersecurity software or a firewall on your computer. It’s money well spent.

Another scam on the rise is called the “Romance Imposter Scam.” This scam is especially prevalent with online dating sites. Essentially, you “meet” someone online who (unbeknownst to you) has used Scammera false name and photo for their profile. You message back and forth a few times. Suddenly your new “friend” professes he/she has strong feelings for you and lavishes you with attention to gain your trust. After a short period of time, this person confides in you about their misfortunes…financial, medical, or whatever the case may be. It’s not long before they “reluctantly” ask for your help…monetary help, that is. These scammers prey on one’s trust, emotions, and desire to be loved. Bottom-line: You never want to send money or gifts to someone you have never met in person. If you become trapped in this kind of “relationship,” cut off all contact with that person immediately.

If you or someone you know has been duped by a scam artist, don't despair. There are many available resources for help. Be sure to report the scam to the police. If your finances may have been compromised, notify your credit card companies and banking institutions. If the scammer is posing as a business or charity representative, contact the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau.

Scammers target people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Get the word out if you know a scam is happening in your community. Protect yourself, your friends, family members, and neighbors this holiday season by knowing the red flags. Say “Bah Humbug” to those scammers!

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