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Evading Scams

System - Monday, September 23, 2013
Scams are prevalent; it's a fact of life in today's world. You find them in your email, Internet, telephone calls, the mail, and even at the front door.

Email is notorious for scams. You have probably spotted them in your Inbox. Most of the more obvious and ridiculous fall into your junk or spam files if you are using anti-virus protection. If you are not, stop and immediately subscribe to a good one - they are not that expensive. Many emails are simply malicious, containing files designed to damage your computer.

However, many emails manage to avoid the spam file by containing key words designed to entice you to open them. These are known as "phishing" emails and their intent is to obtain your personal information. They are looking for account numbers, passwords, and more. Emails from the IRS are prominent scams. They prey on the fear many people have of the Internal Revenue Service. Here is another common example.

You have a Wells Fargo Banking account (example only) and you see an email coming through warning you that there is suspicious activity on your account and they want you to log in, giving you a convenient link and 800 telephone number. Spammers are pros at using business names that thousands, even millions of people, use. STOP - this is more than likely a scam.

DO NOT click that link. Log in legitimately to your bank account online or call a legitimate banking number to find out if they know anything about activity on your account. If there is a problem, there will be a notice posted on your account.

Then, of course, there are the telephone calls. They promise you great things or pull the same trick as an email scam. It's just another way to obtain information or at the very least, sell you something. 

NEVER give any personal information over the telephone - get off as quickly as possible and don't let them browbeat you.

A prevalent place for scams can be right at your front door. You and those in your household should discuss how to handle unexpected people showing up at the door. Here is a true story of a common front door scam.

Helen (fictitious name) answered her door one morning to find (what she thought) an employee from animal control. She believed him to be legitimate because he wore the correct uniform and had an ID badge. He informed her that a dangerous animal had escaped from their shelter and was spotted in her neighborhood. He asked to inspect her back yard and storage areas that would attract the animal. She consented and while Helen and the phony employee spent considerable time in the backyard, his accomplice entered her home and robbed her of what valuables he could easily transport.

Helen should have contacted animal control directly prior to letting him in the backyard. Helen's first clue should have been that he appeared at her door unannounced. Legitimate services, even police, rarely show up unannounced. With today's technology an ID badge is easily faked and they look real.

People prey on the good will of others. Regrettably, this is something we all must keep in mind. With the scope and enormity of the information highways today, we need to know how to sort out and spot scams. With the holiday season starting, there will be even more. Here are some basic tips on how to avoid scams.

PROCEED with caution when you encounter anyone or receive anything unknown
NEVER open anything suspicious in your email
DO NOT allow anyone to enter your residence without verification
REFUSE to cave into pressure and harassment; hang up or refuse to open your door
VERIFY who and what through a legitimate source when you receive anything suspicious
EDUCATE those around you of the dangers, particularly children and elderly people

Follow these precautions and have a safe and happy holiday season.

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