The scamming criminal is nondiscriminatory; age, race, sexual orientation, national origin or personal assets do not matter. If you have an identity, you are a target for information or monetary theft.

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Potpourri: an unorganized collection or mixture of various things (Merriam-Webster, 2023). Today’s offering is just that, a potpourri or medley of information. Scammers (fraud criminals) have one intention: to separate you from your hard-earned money. The criminal is nondiscriminatory; age, race, sexual orientation, national origin or personal assets do not matter. If you have an identity, you are a target for information or monetary theft.

How big of a problem is this? In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission received approximately 2.5 million fraud reports that accounted for $8.8 billion in losses. But wait! That is what the FTC reports. It doesn’t include reports to the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, state agencies or fraud that goes unreported.

Breaking down the numbers, victims 18 to 59 years old were 25 percent more likely to report losses than those over 60. The jarring statistic is that the average loss to fraud by the younger group was about $560, while losses incurred by those over 60 averaged over $1,200. Those are averages. Losses in the thousands of dollars are not unusual. The FTC research also notes that 62 percent of the younger group lost money online and primarily through contacts on social media, while the elder group tended to lose money in telephone scams (42 percent).

The message is clear: Criminals are enriching themselves, and everyone is a target. Here are current scams affecting various age groups:

“Can I borrow your cellphone?” Target: everyone. Perpetrator: teenager. Tactic: You are in a public place, a couple teenagers approach you, and one asks if you would lend him/her your phone to call “mom” for a ride. While making the call, the companion distracts you long enough for the first to check the phone for open financial apps, and transfers money out of your account. Solution: Do not lend your phone out. Ask for the parent’s phone number, and make the call yourself.

“Did you receive your new Medicare Card?” Target: seniors. Perpetrator: imposter. Tactic: You receive a phone call from Medicare asking if you received your new plastic Medicare card. Your answer will be no, because there is no new card. You are then asked to provide your current card number to verify your identity. Solution: Medicare will not call you. Federal government notices (IRS, Social Security, Medicare) are sent via U.S. Postal Service mail. Never give personal information over the phone unless you can absolutely and independently identify the person with whom you are talking.

“Have you received the unclaimed funds held by the state treasurer?” Target: taxpayers. Perpetrator: imposter. Tactic: You receive notice (phone or email) that state government is holding unclaimed funds that belong to you. Here is where the scam can take you in different directions: 1. You are asked to provide payment (gift card, crypto currency, Venmo) to cover the costs of processing your funds; or 2. You are asked to provide personal identity information (Social Security number, driver’s license number) to properly route the money you are about to receive. Solution: State government will not contact you to take possession of the money being held. Money is disbursed (no fee) after completing a valid form provided by your state. The easiest way to find out if there actually is money waiting for you is to go to usa.gov/unclaimed-money, and follow the directions.

“Do you need a copy of your Free Credit report?” Target: adults. Perpetrator: unethical businesses and imposters. Tactic: You need to obtain a copy of your credit report (financial transaction, new place to live, job application), so you go to your browser search engine and enter “free credit report,” discovering dozens of references. Some are commercial sites that want you to enroll in scam monitoring, some are financial institutions seeking your business, and some are fraudulent sites hoping to collect personal data (Social Security number, credit card information, address, phone number and more). Solution: Obtain copies of credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. The site is approved by the government, and reports are available free of charge. 

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, "Mr. Scammer," distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland. Questions? Comments? Email egreenblott@aarp.org.


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