Friday, April 19, 2024

Protect Yourself from Scams

Image Credit: Federal Trade Commission

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost $8.8 billion in fraudulent scams last year, up 30% from 2021 — and 2023 is turning out to be just as damaging.

As of September 30, 2023, the FTC reported that New Jersey ranked 11th in scams in its third quarter analysis, with 27,564 reports of fraud. This was down from New Jersey’s position of third place in the first quarter with a loss of $44.8 million to fraudulent scams.

Fraud and ID theft map. Credit: Federal Trade Commission.

So, what are scams and how can you protect yourself from them? The Ridge View Echo reached out to Detective Joseph Beach from the Blairstown Police Department to find out more.

“A scam is a deceptive act in which an individual, in most cases, will attempt to get money from you by trying to trick you into believing their fake scheme,” said Detective Beach.

Beach said phone scams are on the rise.

“The common scams we see today are phone scams [where scammers] pretend to be JCP&L or Amazon representatives,” said Beach.

“They might advise you’re late on your JCP&L payment and request you to e-transfer or get a gift card to pay the debt. A scammer may also pretend to be an Amazon employee who wants you to verify a large purchase you did not make.”


Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

To avoid getting scammed by these calls, Beach advises people to verify the authenticity of the phone number or email address, pointing out that scammers will go to great lengths to set up similar voice prompts, messages and email addresses.

“Fake emails will usually contain additional letters or symbols but will still closely resemble legit business emails,” said Beach.

He also advises you to go with your gut.

“If you are unsure or feel suspicious you are better off hanging up and verifying the authenticity. Scammers will also pressure you to make you feel like you have to act immediately and make quick decisions.”

Scammers have also gone high-tech, using artificial intelligence to clone the voices of loved ones to sound like a family member. Voice cloning programs can do this with just a short audio clip, gotten online from a social media post.

“In most cases, they will ask for payment with gift cards and request the person to go to their local Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid or Apple [store] to purchase,” Beach said. “A good rule of thumb is that if a gift card, money wiring or cryptocurrency is requested for payment, most likely this is a scam.”

Scammers will also pretend to be from government organizations such as the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Medicare and even the FTC. Don’t trust your caller ID and don’t give out any personal information. Even just pressing a button when prompted can lead to more scam calls. If you think the call may be legitimate, hang up and call the agency back with a number you know to be correct.

The same goes for emails. Don’t click on any links and don’t send the email to anyone else. Just delete it and follow the same protocol for the phone, by contacting the agency with a number or email you know to be correct.

Credit: Cybele Tamulonis. Made with images from Adobe Stock 12/2022.

Government agencies will never ask you to wire money, buy a gift card or say you are the recipient of a prize that taxes have to be paid on before it is released.

If you have already been scammed and sent a payment, contact the company you used to send the payment.

“This includes credit card companies, your bank and wire transfer companies in an attempt to stop the payment,” Beach said. “You should also contact your local police department to file a report.”

Beach advises to also report the scam to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. And if you believe your identity may have been taken, file a report at Identitytheft.gov.

Beach pointed out that the most targeted and vulnerable are the elderly.

“Make sure you inform them and keep them updated on scams,” he recommended. “Advise them to contact their local police department or family members if they are unsure if they are involved in a scam.”

He also advised reminding them that no company will request payment in the form of gift cards and to double-check with a family member before sending money.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “phantom hacker” scams that target the elderly are on the rise. As of August 2023, they were up 40% from the previous year and the average target was over 60 years old and that group made up 66% of fraud loss.

In a phantom hacker scam, a target is contacted by someone posing as a tech or customer support representative from a legitimate company. They tell the victim they have a computer virus, and their financial accounts are at risk from foreign hackers. Inevitably, the victim is then contacted by another scammer posing as a representative from a legitimate financial or government institution and persuades them to move their money into “safe” accounts held by the scammer.

In the end, you are your best advocate when it comes to protecting yourself:
● Monitor your financial accounts and your credit report regularly.
● Don’t click on pop-ups, respond to suspicious emails or phone calls.
● Guard your personal information by shredding sensitive documents.

For additional information please check out https://consumer.ftc.gov/.

Many thanks to Detective Beach of the Blairstown Police Department for contributing to this article.


Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.