Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Tools of the Scammer

 It is in the news more and more and in warnings from the IRS, your bank, the utility company and others:  Be on your guard against scammers.

Your state’s attorney general’s office website likely has a current listing of known scams operating in the area.  The local police and your bank are also good sources for this information.  But it is impossible to keep up with all the sneaky plots to part you from your money. 

In my research I’ve discovered several common tools that fraudsters use, and being alert to them can arm you against many or even most of the plots to cheat you, even if the specifics of the schemes vary a bit.

SURPRISE: When it comes to timing, the scammer has the advantage.  He can “attack” at a time of his choosing; you have no control over that, so of course the unexpectedness of the event can set you back on your heels.  The best counter measures to this are to limit his ability to contact you.  Enroll your phone number in the registry.  Cell phone companies are doing a good job of identifying spam calls so they are identified as such when your phone rings, or they are filtered out entirely.  Or simply don’t answer your phone unless you are certain of the caller’s identity.  Even a local number that you might not recognize can be dangerous since international callers can mimic a local call.  If you get an e-mail from someone you do not know, do not click on any links in that e-mail or answer a “survey”. 

PANIC: Creating a sense of danger by using words such as “lawsuit”, “judgment”, “fraud”, “final notice” will typically put the potential victim on the defensive and make him more vulnerable to poor decision-making.  Wouldn’t anybody want to do whatever he could to avoid a lawsuit, say?  The best defense is to just stop and breathe.  Don’t allow yourself to be hurried into what the scammer wants you to do.  Then, when you’ve gathered your wits and reasoning powers, think logically about the situation.  Does what the scammer is saying and asking even make sense?    If you’ve paid all your known bills, could there really be another one you owe?  And no reputable firm takes gift cards as a form of payment; that’s a giveaway.

FEAR/INSECURITY: A scammer can play on the particular circumstances of an individual—immigration status, an elderly person collecting Social Security, a grandparent—to create fear.  Threat of deportation, loss of benefits, a child in danger, can quickly cause us to lose perspective and become vulnerable to the scammer’s requests.  A proactive defense against this is to limit how much information you share on social media or elsewhere.  It’s cool that everyone knows your birthday since you posted it on Facebook, or that your grandkids are so cute since you posted their pictures online, or that you are taking your citizenship test next week since you proudly proclaimed that on Twitter.  It’s not so cool that a scammer can use that information against you.

IMMEDIACY: The supposed need to take immediate action to avoid a negative consequence ensnares many a victim.  The action requested by the scammer is typically to send money by wire transfer or gift cards (methods of payment that are difficult or impossible to reverse or recover) or simply to surrender some bit of personal information that would enable the scammer to pull off a bigger heist down the road.  For example, if he already has your date of birth, then getting your mother’s maiden name or just the last four digits of your Social Security number might be enough to steal your identity and your money later.  The best defense is to slow down the conversation; ask questions (but don’t answer any of the scammer’s questions); have them identify themselves and who they represent and get a phone number to call them back.  If he has not already hung up by then, you hang up and look up the name of the organization he gave you and call the number you find online, NOT the number he gave you (if any), if you think it is a legitimate company, and ask for customer service to inquire about the call you received and the person who made the call.

ISOLATION: There is strength in numbers, so a scammer will want to keep you from consulting anyone else about what they are saying or asking of you.  That’s why they want to create panic and demand immediate action, so you do not think to—or have time to—ask someone else what they think.  Don’t let embarrassment or fear stop you from checking with a trusted friend or family member.  Two heads are better than one.

Be careful out there.  Don’t be fearful, but do be alert.

Until next time,


“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” Proverbs 22:3 NIV*

*Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973,   1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission.  All rights reserved worldwide