By Elliott Greenblott
In the world of fraud and scams, there are several painful facts of life. Two of these are that successful scammers are creative, and falling victim to a scam is virtually inevitable. The latest scams provide all the evidence you need if you are a skeptic.
The latest threat comes by phone or email message and is a form of ransomware. The message states that an individual has accessed video and text materials of a compromising nature on your computer and demands payment. These are scams; do not send money. Some of these messages may even include former or current passwords to provide evidence of hacking. If so, the safe approach is to run virus and malware protection software and change any account access passwords using a different computer. Report the receipt of the message to your state consumer protection agency: Massachusetts, 617-727-8400; New York, 800-771-7755 or http://www.ag.ny.gov/bureau/consumer-frauds-bureau; Vermont, 802-800-649-2424 or https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/.
Another targeted scam involves intercepting mail. In a situation reported to me recently, a resident discovered that someone had filed a change of address form with the U. S. Postal Service diverting mail to an address in Georgia. This crime exposes the victim to multiple problems. Aside from the loss of mail from family and friends, there is significant chance of identity theft as the criminal may now possess account numbers from bills, identity information from insurance and medical statements and other personal data that can be used to establish fraudulent identities.
Other problems are also likely to occur. If the mail theft involves bills, you may find yourself subject to interest and late fees from creditors. Utility shut-off is a possibility as well, and you may not realize there is a problem until your power company throws the switch. After all, you may not even receive notice of threatened service as you will not receive notices mailed to you.
The likelihood of significant losses is very high and critical steps need to be taken for self-defense. When you first discover the problem, report it to your local post office as that will begin the process of restoring mail service. Secondly, report the crime to the U. S. Postal Inspection Service by calling (800) 275-8777. USPIS is the investigatory and enforcement division of the Postal Service that handles fraud and postal theft.
Next, conduct a check of all credit card, bank and investment accounts to see if there has been any unauthorized activity. As a safety precaution, you should notify credit card companies of potential identity theft and request that current accounts be closed and new ones opened.
Another safe step involves the ordering of credit freezes from the four major credit bureaus. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit information, which is uniformly required when taking out loans or opening new accounts. A freeze does not impact use of your current accounts. Contact can be made by phone or on-line: Equifax, 800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com; Experian, 888-397-3742 or www.experian.com; Innovis, 800-540-2505 www.innovis.com; TransUnion, 800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com.
Preventing this type of crime may not be 100 percent possible, but one step in self-protection is to anticipate receipt of regular bills. Knowing when utility and credit card bills or account statements arrive is critical. Mark dates on a calendar and if an anticipated mailing does not arrive, make contact to see if the item had been sent. Also, monitor accounts on-line. This is a safe way to check for problems.
While many fraud and scam attempts can be targeted to attack specific groups, they are not usually committed as personal attacks. They are societal and are aimed at every demographic without bias. You can help deflect these attacks on your community, family, and friends by sharing this information and by reporting the attack to the agency listed above.
Additional questions or concerns? Contact me at [email protected] Register on line at www.AARP.org/fraudwatchnetwork to receive alerts.
AARP is seeking Fraud Fighters of all ages. Contact the AARP Massachusetts Office at 866-448-3621, AARP New York Office at 866-227-7442, or AARP Vermont Office at 866-227-7451.
Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator who serves as the Vermont AARP Fraud Watch Network coordinator.
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