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article imageOp-Ed: Scam artists are everywhere! How do you protect yourself?

By Nicole Weddington     Jun 5, 2014 in Business
Scam artists are making their move. They are found in every industry type and their skills are on the rise with the growing sophistication of technology.
In March, for example, news broke about a group that was claiming to be the IRS and scamming people out of millions of dollars in what they told their targets was “overdue tax payments.” The group even managed to set their systems up to display a local IRS office on a target’s caller ID to help make the scam seem more legitimate.
In El Paso, authorities have finally arrested Christopher Michael Thompson, a man who has allegedly scammed a lot of his auto shop’s customers out of thousands of dollars in insurance money for repairs that he never actually made on their vehicles.
It’s easy to think that you aren’t ever going to fall for a scam like that or that you’re too smart to lose your identity via a phishing email. The problem is that scammers are getting smarter. The phishing emails and phone calls are starting to sound more legitimate. Some scammers are even setting up “dummy” companies to help themselves look more trustworthy when a target decides to Google them on the fly.
You need to understand that there are lots of “dummy” companies out there that promise you the moon and stars — they promise unlimited credit, nearly free insurance rates, loans, etc. Typically the websites are set up to look like well-known company sites but there are a few tell-tale signs that you should look for before you offer any of your information and definitely before you send any money. Therefore, just because a site looks fancy doesn’t mean it is automatically trustworthy. Keep your guard up.
So what do you do? How do you make sure that you are protected against someone who would otherwise want to hurt you?
1. Do they help you or distract you?
Let’s pretend that you need to insure your new car. As you search the web for insurance companies and good deals you find dozens of different companies offering you insurance for what seem like incredible rates. One of the best ways to tell know what you're getting into is to look at how the company wants you to handle privacy and fraudulent activity related to your account.
A good company — one that is legitimate and likely trustworthy — will not only want you to report fraudulent account activity to them; they will also want you to report fraudulent activity to your local and federal authorities. Moreover, they will provide you with the information you need for doing that. Others may be a little less transparent and have their customer service reps give you the information when you call in to make your report. Some, like, will list it directly on their websites. Others may be a little less transparent and have their customer service reps give you the information when you call in to make your report. The point is that they will make sure that you know how to report the fraud. In fact, a good sign that a company is legit is that the company will encourage you to make the report.
A scam artist, on the other hand, not only won’t give you that information, they’ll actively discourage you against reporting the fraud yourself. They might promise to make the report for you but don’t assume that means legitimacy. Any company that tries to distract you away from filing fraud reports is a company you will probably want to report.
2. Beware of those who contact you
One of the oldest tricks in the book is for a scam artist to call a random number, ask the name of the person they’re speaking to and then claim to be a collections agent for X company and demand immediate payment to keep impending legal action from being taken against the mark. When they want to seem more legitimate, the scam artist will look up the person ahead of time and “verify” your identity using an older address that they found online.
Never ever pay money to someone who calls you. Ever. In this situation get the caller’s name, his/her company and then tell the caller that you will have to check with your attorney (hint: you do not actually have to have an attorney) and have the attorney give them a call back. Legitimate collectors are fine with this. Scam artists will either push you further or get off the phone.
3. Email links deserve further scrutiny
By now everybody knows about email phishing. The problem is that, as our knowledge and awareness evolves, so does the phisher’s skill. NBC News reports that in just the last couple of days thousands of Google account holders and Gmail users have been targeted by a phishing scam — a scam that looks very official and has endangered a lot of accounts.
It’s getting harder to tell which emails are legit and which are designed to steal your identity. Here are some tips to keep the phishers from getting your information.
• Never ever ever ever ever ever ever click on links sent to you through email unless you actually know the person sending the email (friends, family members). Even if the email looks official and references information that only the company could know. Instead, open up your web browser and go to that company’s website directly. If there genuinely are problems with your account, you’ll be informed of those problems when you try to log in.
• This rule also applies to phone numbers and email addresses. Phishers are now employing people to answer phones and emails. Always contact the company via the official contact details on your card or on the official website. This way you can get instant information about your account and let the company know that someone is targeting their customers.
• Remember: spammers and scammers know how to shield email addresses and make it look like someone you know is emailing you. Before you click on any link — even from someone you know — hover over it with your mouse. The actual linked URL will show
up somewhere in the window. If it matches and you trust the sender, you can click it. If it doesn’t, do not click it. Send an email (a new email, don’t simply reply) or text to your friend and let them know their email has been hacked.
• Are you getting weird newsletters that you don’t remember signing up for? Don’t click the unsubscribe button! You’ll likely be sent to a page that requires you to enter your email “for verification purposes.” When you enter your email, you’re signing up for more spam! Instead, simply flag the newsletters as spam in your email client and delete them.
These are just three of the ways scammers will try to get the better of you. Using these tips should help you protect yourself. Good luck!
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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