Recently, while on a road trip, David and I were finally able to have the time to listen to all available episodes – 47 of them, plus a bonus, roughly 30 minutes each – from The Perfect Scam by AARP. I understand that many of those on the conservative side of the political spectrum refuse to have anything to do with AARP, which is known to be left-leaning. As for me, I’m willing to listen to anybody – so long as (1) it helps me understand the world a little bit better and (2) it does not insult my intelligence. I found each of the episodes quite educational.
Perhaps you have heard of Frank Abagnale. His life experiences as a teenager are the basis of the Steven Spielberg movie, “Catch Me If You Can.”
Mr. Abagnale has since turned himself around and been working for the FBI for over 40 years as a fraud expert. For most of the episodes, he is the one that provides helpful tips on what ordinary people, like you and I, can do to avoid becoming a victim of scams and frauds. Topics include, but not limited to:
- Grandparent scam
- Gold-and-silver scam
- Romance scam
- Accident scam
- Scams against the elderly
- Psychic scam
- Lottery scam
- Dark web
- The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.
- IRS phone scam
- Medicare fraud
- A three-part series, involving a Michigan oncologist.
- Stolen photos used for scam
It is eye-opening – not to mention sickening – to find out how scammers are able to con people. By the way, in one of the episodes, Mr. Abagnale explained that “con” is short for confidence; i.e., a scammer gains your confidence first to do what they do next.
After listening to the episodes, obvious prevention of becoming a victim of most scams is simply to not answer phone calls. Here is why: According to AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, registering your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry does not mean that you only receive calls that you expect. On the contrary:
- Some entities are exempt from the Registry restrictions — charities, surveys, political groups, and debt collectors, for example.
- Unfortunately, laws are created to deter law-abiding entities from making calls. Scammers could not care less and will call regardless. In other words, if your number is registered, and if you’re still getting many calls, they are likely to be from scammers.
- Worse, scammers can even manipulate the caller ID to make themselves look legitimate.
As for us, since about a decade ago, we have stopped answering any and all calls unless we’re expecting a call at a specific time. Have we lost some potential businesses because of not picking up the call? It’s possible but when a call is legitimate (i.e., the phone number matches what we have on record), then we return the call immediately.
If a call is important enough, the caller will leave a message. Even for this type of scenario, however, some crooks (both male and female) will leave legitimate-sounding messages. Today, thanks to smartphones, we can read voice messages in a text format. The content is usually a dead giveaway that it’s a scam.
- Consider not picking up any phone calls – even if it has a “caller ID.”
- If the caller leaves a message, verify the information independently; if legitimate, return the call immediately using the known phone number.
The most important tip:
- Any time someone asks for money or information that could enable him/her to have access to your money, run!
p.s. For security reasons, we direct all sensitive documents that come to us via snail mail to our P.O. Box at a local United States Postal Service. As a result, what we typically receive in the mailbox at our residence are non-essential items. If anyone decides to steal them, not a big deal. While it is a federal crime to tamper with mailboxes, the problem is that, again, criminals do not care. Recently, I had to get a replacement Social Security card. Guess as to where the Social Security Administration insisted on sending it. To our home address, the least secure destination of all, of course! There is a disconnect between the reality of modern-day life in America and what the government insists on doing…
p.p.s. Attached, below, is a copy from a Wall Street Journal article, dated November 3, 2019. In it, Ms. Joanna Stern kindly answered my question. To follow up on what she has suggested, here is a link to “Avoid and report Google scams.” It, too, is well worth a read if for no other reason but to familiarize ourselves with potential frauds that look oh-so legitimate.