It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.
With the proliferation of scams and frauds committed over the internet, by phone, through the mail and even face-to-face, it's hard to know who to trust anymore. If we, or a loved one, fall victim to one of these rip-offs, the repercussions can be enormous, leaving financial ruin and emotional devastation.
According to the Norton Cyber Security Insights Report, "143 million Americans were affected by cybercrime in 2017." They lost a collective $19.4 billion. Cybercrimes occur over computers and via the internet. Criminals often use the internet to find prey, with emails promising things like unexpected and (very) distant inheritances. These emails provide phishing links -- links that take you someplace other than what you clicked on -- and embedded viruses that can send your private info around the globe or even hold your computer data hostage for a ransom. The FBI is the lead investigative agency against cybercrimes in the U.S. The bureau, along with the Department of Justice, investigates and prosecutes cybercriminals.
Online scammers target individuals, vulnerable children, small businesses, major corporations and even agencies involved in our national security. Phone spammers have a similar list of targets as these internet villains and can pose as salespeople, government employees and even kidnappers pretending to have the target's own family members. An internet predator may pose as an employee of an agency such as the FBI, with a robotic voice threatening arrest and prosecution if an "immediate payment" is not made. Victims of this scam are often advised to send money via gift cards, which should already set off alarms.
These are some of the more common frauds being committed:
Phone calls to the elderly in which the caller poses as a friend of an individual (often a beloved grandchild) who is in major trouble overseas and needs money sent immediately. The caller may even pose as the grandchild (or other relative) and ask for money directly. Seniors who receive one of these calls need to confirm the identity of the alleged relative. In the case of trouble overseas, they should verify the location of the named relative. Social media often provides enough information for a scammer to pull off this ruse.
Email and phone are well-used routes when the bad guys are looking for your personal financial information. The deception may be someone posing as a bank clerk, mortgage holder or government agent offering to fill out an important form to save unnecessary trouble. All the mark has to do is provide the social security number, credit card numbers and other personally identifying information. Weeks later, they'll find excessive charges on their credit card and new accounts opened in their name. Sometimes, someone's entire identity is stolen. People should never give out personal information by phone or email in response to contact they did not initiate. If someone calls representing a supposedly valid business, such as a local utility company, ask for a callback number and then verify the number indeed goes to that company before returning the call. Remember that most companies will never request invasive personal information in such an impersonal way.
While the announcement of a major prize win is certainly exciting, be careful if instructions follow to send untraceable money (through gift cards, etc.) as a deposit to get the prize paperwork rolling. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sounding off with a trusted friend can help you recognize scams before falling prey and losing life savings or worse.
Protect your identity and monitor your financial health:
Monitor all of your credit card and bank statements and alert the institution if there is any unauthorized activity. There are many, many services out there that will offer to monitor your credit for a fee. There are also quite a few who will help you monitor your financial health for free. Review your credit reports every year from each of the main credit reporting companies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. you are entitled to a free report every year. If you find fraudulent information in your file, ask each company to post a fraud alert. You can also "freeze" your credit in order to prevent your credit information from falling into the wrong hands.