Scam Trends And How To Protect Yourself

Maura Schauss |

By Maura C. Schauss, CFP®

It’s a shame, really. In today’s world, scams, hacks, and identity theft happen all the time. And while we all think, “Oh, that will never happen to me,” the truth is that nobody is safe. 

To keep yourself protected, you have to be on high alert. This means knowing the current scam trends so you can recognize and avoid them.

Here are five common scams people are falling for every day—and how to avoid them. Make sure to share these scams with your loved ones to protect them from being the next victim. In the fight against scammers, knowledge is power.

The IRS Call Scam

The IRS Call Scam has been going on for years and has many different variations. The most recent variation, which the IRS warned the public about this year, involves criminals calling people pretending to be from the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) department of the IRS. (1)

They make it look like they’re calling from an IRS office, sometimes starting with a robo-call requesting a callback. When the target returns the call, the scammer requests sensitive personal information. They can be very convincing—using fake identification, making legal threats, sending supporting emails, reciting the last four digits of your Social Security number, etc.—and the worst part is, this is only one of many versions of the scam.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to protect yourself from all of them: never give out personal information over the phone. If you receive a call from the IRS asking for personal information, hang up. The “real” IRS will never make unsolicited calls offering to help or demanding specific payment information.

The Skimming Scam

Nowadays, you don’t just have to worry about being physically pickpocketed, you also have to protect yourself from “electronic pickpocketing.” A lot of what you carry in your wallet—your license, credit cards, passport, etc.—has sensitive information encoded into it. Identity thieves can “skim” this information wirelessly using an RFID reader. The chances of this happening are very low, but essentially, you could be robbed without even knowing it.

An easy way to avoid this is to use an RFID-blocking wallet or RFID-blocking card sleeves. These products are designed to protect the information encoded in your cards.

The Craigslist Scam

Craigslist is a useful tool, but it’s also full of scammers. And while most of these scams are easy to spot, some of them can be quite convincing. These scams usually involve buyers who want to pay via wire transfers that require your bank account number. If you are desperate to sell something and they give you a convincing story, this can be tempting.

Don’t fall for it. Never give personal information to strangers. In today’s day and age, there are many other ways to pay. Venmo and PayPal are both secure forms of digital payment. If you are making an exchange in person, it’s best to do it at the local police station to avoid any funny business. 

The Ransom Call Scam

Sadly, many scammers prey on the elderly population, who are generally more vulnerable to phone harassment. One phone scam that targets the elderly is a ransom call claiming to have kidnapped a child or grandchild. The caller threatens to harm a loved one if they do not receive a wire transfer. 

This is a tough one. It can be hard to tell if there is a real threat or not. That said, there are steps to help identify a scam. (2) First and foremost, stay calm. Then ask to speak with the victim, ask for the “kidnapper” to describe the victim in detail, or try calling the victim using a different phone.

Make sure to inform your parents and grandparents about this scam (and what to do if it happens), so they don’t fall prey.

The ATM Scam

The ATM Scam is pretty straightforward. The criminal attaches a small “skimming” device to the ATM card slot that steals the information encoded in the card. They also attach a camera that records you as you type in your PIN. Armed with your card info and PIN, they can make purchases with your card online. 

Thankfully, this scam is easy to avoid. It usually happens at “insecure” ATMs at restaurants and gas stations. So if you can avoid those (and use bank ATMs instead), you’re probably safe. However, if you ever do have to use an insecure ATM, simply examine it. Does the card slot look like it’s been tampered with? Does the keyboard feel weird? Can you spot any suspicious-looking devices that could be a camera? If anything feels “off,” don’t use it.

Next Steps

Learning how to avoid scams is an important step in protecting your finances, but it’s not the only step. If you truly want to shield yourself from financial problems, you need to have a solid financial plan in place. A plan helps define not only where you need to go, but also how you’re going to get there. That’s exactly what we help people do at Washington Wealth Advisors. If you’d like more information on how we can help design a financial plan customized to your unique situation and goals, call our office at 703.584.2700 or email clientservices@washingtonwealthadv.com.

About Washington Wealth Advisors

Washington Wealth Advisors is an independent registered investment advisory firm serving high net worth families and small businesses. We focus on holistic financial planning and comprehensive investment management. Leveraging our core strengths of unbiased, active investment management together with a detailed annual financial planning capability, we serve your comprehensive investment and financial planning needs.

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(1) https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-warns-of-new-phone-scam-using-taxpayer-advocate-service-numbers

(2) https://www.ors.od.nih.gov/News/Pages/Beware-of-Virtual-Kidnapping-Ransom-Scam.aspx