Elliott Greenblott | Fraud watch: Keys to self-defense in fighting fraud

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The fight against fraud, scams and con-artists is a continuous struggle. Regular readers of this column have seen reports on over 40 different attacks ranging from what seem almost amateur efforts to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service to very sophisticated schemes carried out by impersonating family members or friends in desperate situations or by creating fraudulent romantic relationships. These efforts appear in the mail using elaborate "official" documents, impassioned telephone calls, "sincere" door-to-door offers, and well crafted email messages and web pages. There is bad news and good news. The bad news: Scams are becoming more sophisticated and appearing more frequently. The good news: You can avoid becoming a victim by education and adoption of some critical behaviors.

By reading this column, you are taking a step in the direction of education. Here are a few places to visit on-line to expand your education:

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The USPIS web site provides a wide range of information that goes well beyond postal fraud. In addition, there is a link that can be used to report crimes.

This FBI website addresses internet crime. While primarily a vehicle to report computer crime, a home page feature, Press Room, contains press releases identifying recent criminal activity. Additional information can be found here. The Federal Trade Commission can be used to access on-line and print information that covers most areas of consumer fraud. The FTC also serves as the primary authority to which Identity Theft is reported. The FTC home page also provides access to obtaining copies of credit reports, the Do Not Call registry, and consumer fraud alerts. A second FTC web site provides even more information here.States provide fraud protection information and reporting for residents. In Massachusetts, information is located and fraud reports can be filed by calling 617-727-8400 or online. In New York, online information is available here or by calling 800-697-1220. In Vermont, the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) can be reached by calling 800-649-2424 or online, with additional resources provided by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation or by calling Banking Consumer Assistance 888-568-4547, Insurance Consumer Assistance at 800-964-1784, or Investment Consumer Assistance at 802-828-3420.Given that fraud and scams are constantly evolving, registering for fraud alerts will keep you current on scams. The following organizations provide consumer information and registration for alerts: the AARP Fraud Watch Network, the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Consumers League, and the Vermont Consumer Assistance Program.

With the education piece in place, the next step is the adoption of critical behaviors. Government agencies and fraud awareness specialists suggest the following:

1: Learn to spot impostors — government agencies, banks, and other businesses will not use unsecured communications to request or collect information. Hang up if you get an email or phone call asking you to verify information and use verifiable contact information to communicate.

2: Do online research to verify contact information.

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3: Don't believe caller ID. Criminals use technology to mask and impersonate phone numbers. Allow calls to go to voice mail when you are not certain about who is calling.

4: Hang up immediately on robocalls. Just continuing to listen puts you at risk for more calls.

5: Be skeptical of free offers. Often a free offer ties you to a future purchase or a fee.

6: Never make payments with "gift" and cash cards and don't wire money to unknown individuals. Using a credit card for online purchases provides safety.

7: Beware of any payments requiring you to wire money back for any reason. These are scams.

8: Avoid rushed decisions. Take your time and don't fall for offers calling for immediate payment. Losing an opportunity is better than losing your money.

Questions or comments? Contact 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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