The stereotype of which people are susceptible to scams and frauds often is wrong. People who never expected to be victims of scams and frauds often are scammed and really are among the most vulnerable. The stereotype is that older people with reduced cognitive abilities are the most likely to be scammed.
But many other people are vulnerable, and those who don’t fit the stereotype need to stay alert for potential scams. Self-confidence is one factor that causes people to fall for scams.
People of any age who believe they are too smart or well-informed to be tricked are very likely to become victims, espe- cially today when technology is used in many scams. Investigators found that well-educat- ed people with their cognitive abilities intact frequently are victims of scams, partly because they were confident that they didn’t fit the profile of fraud victims and couldn’t fall for one. That made them less careful.
To avoid being scammed, it’s import- ant to recognize that your personal information probably has been hacked at least once and is available for sale to crooks on the “dark web.” Crooks es- tablish authenticity and authority with their targets by repeating the personal information they obtained. Realizing that a lot of your personal information is available for sale should help you avoid giving credence to crooks. You’ll be less likely to think, “If he knows that about me, he must be legitimate.”
Most scams depend on a psycho- logical technique that’s now called social engineering. People make bad decisions when an emotion becomes so strong that the higher-level thinking parts of the brain essentially shut down for a period of time. Strong feelings of fear, anger and greed can cause people to make decisions they wouldn’t make at other times.
Con artists excel in using social engineering to stimulate strong emotions. Most of today’s top scams depend on fear. Last winter, it was common for crooks to call people and say that their utilities would be cut off if they didn’t pay an overdue bill immediate- ly.
Widely used scams in recent years involved telling people they were about to be arrested for unpaid taxes or that their Social Security numbers had been “suspended.” Experts recommend a few simple changes that can help you avoid being conned by today’s scams.
• Realize the crooks are looking for you. Even if you don’t fit the profile of a typical victim, crooks will contact you and try to manipulate you.
• Think like a crook, but only a little. Most people are honest, and they don’t think like dishonest people. Also, as people age, they tend to become more trusting and optimistic. Remind yourself that there are dishonest people in the world and that you need to be skeptical when someone is asking for or demanding money.
• Accept that crooks probably have access to your personal information. It was bought on the dark web after it was obtained from a hack of a medical provider, retailer, credit card provider or government entity. Don’t be im- pressed when someone reels off some personal details you thought were pri- vate. And don’t confirm details unless you’re sure the person is legitimate.
• Be aware of your emotions. As I said, the crooks try to excite certain emotions to keep you from thinking clearly. Ask yourself if you’re con- templating an action based primar- ily on emotions. Slow down. Think clearly. Consider all the facts. Crooks emphasize urgency and say you have to take action now. That’s a clue that someone is trying to con you. Take time to talk to someone you know and trust about the situation.
• Look out for intimidation. Crooks depend on your accepting their au- thority, whether they are claiming to be an IRS official, investment expert or something else. Red flags are being waved when someone is using infor- mation, threats, technology, tone of voice or other tools to try to intimidate you.
• Stop the process. You can hang up the telephone or terminate a conversa- tion. If you really owe the IRS money, it will send you a letter. People selling legitimate investments will let you carefully consider the decision and follow up in a professional way. Legiti- mate businesses will try to contact you several times in several different ways. There’s no sudden need to pay a bill you didn’t know was overdue.
• Learn the basic cons. Most of to- day’s successful cons merely are varia- tions of scams that have been around for a long time but are being executed in new ways because of technology.
Knowing the cons helps you spot the red flags. There’s a lot of information about current cons on the websites of AARP, the IRS, National Consumers League (www.fraud.org), FINRA, the Better Business Bureau and other organizations. Many of these orga- nizations also offer seminars around the country. Take some time to learn how frauds are perpetrated, so you’ll quickly spot one.