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Beware of scams

It’s a new year. We have a new president, a new Congress and a new Super Bowl champion. But we also have some of the same old things, among them, miracle cures, diets that don’t work and scam artists. While the latter may be promoters of the former, their approach is typically much more brazen than simply attempting to convince you to purchase something; their intentions are to separate you from your money, your possessions or your personal information by any means possible.

Dave Emanuel

With tax season upon us, there’s a good chance you will receive a phone call from a scammer claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, and stating that you owe back taxes. Of course, being the helpful sort, the caller tells you that if you send in a few hundred dollars to some obscure address, all will be forgiven.

Another scam is to have a “sales person” come to your door and attempt to lure you outside to inspect an alleged problem with your house. If you take the bait and walk outside, an accomplice enters your house and relieves you of any valuables or cash he or she can find.

EMC Security recently sent out an email advising customers to be aware of another scam. The company is upgrading equipment and has been contacting customers by phone or email to advise them of the upgrade. Scammers have been going door-to-door claiming to be from EMC Security or Honeywell (a security equipment manufacturer) in an effort to be invited in to do an inspection or an upgrade. Once inside, they steal personal information or anything else they find that is of value.

And, there are a host of other scams that are perpetrated through email or a phone call. Many of these have been around for years and have been exposed, yet unfortunately, some people still fall for them. On the other hand, new scams are continually being developed. So what are the best way to avoid becoming a victim? Situational awareness and common sense.

Just as being aware of your surroundings is vital to avoiding situations that pose a threat to your safety, being aware of who might be on the other end of the phone, or email, can help you avoid being scammed. Don’t simply accept what a caller or email says, verify it. If you are contacted by anyone stating that you have an outstanding debt, summons, warrant or bill, or that your home needs to be inspected for some reason, verify the claim by directly contacting the organization in question. Never respond by clicking a link in an email or by calling a provided phone number. Look for verifiable contact information on a previous bill or search for it on the internet.

Keep in mind that many scams are designed to steal your personal information, and ultimately your identity. A key ingredient to identity theft is a social security number, and many times a seemingly benign scam is in fact the first step to getting that number. A request for your address or date of birth may seem innocent enough, but such requests may well be coming from a scammer who is trying to piece together the information needed to steal your identity. Hence the need for common sense. Does the person requesting information have a legitimate need for it?

Common sense should also prevail when you receive an offer for a financial reward. The “we need your help transferring a bazillion dollars out of our country”, and “you have been named in the will of (insert improbable name here) as the recipient of a bazillion dollars” scams have pretty well run their course, although they haven’t disappeared completely.

To a degree, the bazillion dollar scams have been replaced by ones that proclaim you’re a winner, or that you have been randomly selected to take part in a survey. When you see, “Click here to claim your prize”, or “Click here to start the survey”, give serious consideration to hitting “Delete”. Certainly, some requests for you to complete a survey or apply to receive a discount or promotional item are legitimate. But if you don’t do business with the company making the offer, or haven’t had a recent interaction with a representative, you will probably be responding to a scam.

The question then becomes one of risk versus reward. Do you really want to put your personal information at risk in the hopes that you’ll receive something you don’t need?