Financial trickery is an ongoing problem, and it’s amazing how successful it often is. Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S. D., has an eagle eye for such frauds. Here are his tips to avoid being gulled.
Larry Light: Ours is a cynical age. You’d think people would be more wise to attempted cons.
Rick Kahler: Financial scams and con artists have probably been around at least as long as people have been using money. In the past when I read stories about scams, I often wondered how people could be so gullible. I assumed that the victims of fraud were the vulnerable elderly or less educated, had suffered a recent loss of a loved one, or were isolated. This is not necessarily the case.
While some data suggests that one in five of those over age 65 have been targeted by email scammers, being scammed can happen to anyone. Nobody is immune to fraud, and sometimes people simply fall for scams due to the psychological techniques employed by fraudsters. Often, their strategies are meant to take advantage of our desire to give.
Light: What are some of the most widely used scams?
Kahler: Shipping and mailing is a big one. If you’re sending gifts, be suspicious if you get an email or text message that appears to be from UPS, FedEx or the U.S. post office. One scam involves sending messages that you need to pay a fee for a missed delivery, which is an attempt to lure you to a fake website that asks for your credit or debit card information.
Hang onto receipts that include tracking numbers in case you need to find a misdelivered package. It’s also a good idea to let recipients know the tracking number and the expected date of delivery to help them guard against packages being stolen by porch pirates.
Mail checks or gift cards at the post office or a drop box rather than putting them in your home mailbox. A friend of mine had thieves steal a check out of her mailbox, alter the payee and amount, and try to cash it at her bank. Fortunately, an alert teller refused the transaction and also called the police with information about the thieves’ car, and they were caught. Stolen checks can also be used for identity theft or sold on the dark web.
Light: Yikes. What else?
Kahler: Then there’s the family-member-in-need scam. A standard phone scam targeting grandparents is the call from someone claiming to be “your oldest grandson,” who is in trouble and needs money urgently. A related method sends random text messages pretending to be a family member who has lost their phone. If a parent responds to a text saying “this is my new number,” the scammer then asks for money because of some problem related to losing their phone.
In cases like this, you want to be like one of my clients who got the “grandma, I’m in trouble” phone call. Her oldest grandson has a distinctive voice, so she knew immediately that the call was phony. Instead of responding with the grandson’s name, which is what the scammer hopes for, she just said, “Oh?” and waited. “I won,” she later said proudly, “The scammer hung up on me!”
Light: That’s good to hear. Emotions are great weapons for these crooks.
Kahler: Charitable giving scams depend on that. Scammers may pose as well-known legitimate charities or use fake names similar to those of real organizations. They might also take advantage of our desire to help by inventing stories of children with acute illnesses or using current events like the war in Ukraine or natural disasters.
Be alert for charities with unfamiliar names, websites that don’t look quite right and texts or emails from unverified sources. Instead of responding to an unsolicited message asking for donations, do your own search for a legitimate charity’s website and initiate your donation there.
Where scammers are concerned, suspicion is a good idea.