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We are cruising into the second full week of 2020 and the second set of resolutions for steering clear of fraud and scams. How are you doing so far? Let me know by email at egreenblott@aarp.org. I can send you a fresh copy of the first five resolutions if you misplaced them.

The resolutions today are a bit traditional, like weight loss and treating everyone with respect; great goals, but they require continuous attention. There are only five resolutions here, and if you addressed the previous ones, this will give you only five for the rest of the year.

6. I will ignore the offers of fast money or gift cards from sources I do not know.

Reading the fine print is critical. Most of these offers carry the caveat that the offer has no relationship to the company being featured in the promotion; for example, the offer of a $100 Walmart gift card is not being made by Walmart. Rather, it is being made by an advertising or merchandising company. The "fine print" often adds that the offer is for UP TO $100 or more but frequently the "reward" is for merchandise such as magazines valued at the "news stand" price and tied to completion of a lengthy survey asking for personal data and preferences. Some of these surveys can take as long as an hour to complete and the answers to each new page of questions is immediately captured.

These companies are data brokers or data aggregators who collect and sell personal information. Generally, their practice is legal. Your best action is to simply discard the offer, trash the email, or hang up the phone. Consider this - businesses do not succeed by giving away money. In this case, the offer is made with the expectation that the respondent will never collect anything, but the collected data will be used.

7. I will not answer the telephone unless I recognize the number on caller ID.

Fraudsters are proficient in the use of computer technology that "spoofs" (imitates) telephone numbers in a calling area using the first six digits (area code and local prefix). Such a call can record your number as active and target you for additional calls. Allow calls to go to voice mail. If the caller really wants to reach you, he or she will leave a message. Also, never follow the instruction to "press 1" to be placed on a do not call list. That will add you to a call list instead.

8. I will use a credit card instead of a debit card.

Debit cards remove money from a bank account immediately; credit card payment is made after a monthly statement is received. Recovery from debit card theft requires more effort and can only take place after the money has been taken. In addition, credit card companies allow consumers to challenge charges before having to make payment. According to research, most direct losses from consumer bank accounts is directly linked to debit card transactions.

9. I will report attempted fraud to the appropriate authority.

The "appropriate authority?" If it is credit card or bank related fraud, report it directly to that institution. IRS fraud can be reported directly to www.IRS.gov. Identity theft is best reported to the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov. In addition, you can contact your state Attorney General's Office or AARP at 877-908-3360.

10. I will update/change the passwords I use to access for accounts and my technology: different, unique passwords for everything.

Start with your computer, tablet, and smart phone and avoid passwords based on names, dates or letter/number sequences. According to www.cnet.com, the most critical element in creating safe passwords is password length of at least 16 characters (most of us use eight). An alternative might be purchasing a password manager in which you would only need to remember one password to access all accounts on an encrypted network. There will be a fee associated with this, but it may well be worth the price.

Questions, comments, concerns? Contact me at egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He produces a feature CATV program, "Mr. Scammer," distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland.


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