Help put a stop to scams

Published 9:16 pm Thursday, July 26, 2012

For most of us, the scam just seems too crazy to be successful. A bailout courtesy of the Obama administration will take care of your utility bill, the scammers say. Just give us your Social Security number and a bit of personal information, and we’ll provide you special bank account and check routing numbers to use when paying your bill online. Only later does the victim realize the routing numbers were bogus and that fraudsters have enough of his personal and banking information to perpetrate identity theft. Adding insult to injury, the utility bills remain unpaid, which can result in severe penalties, including loss of service.

Of course, those who commit fraud rarely select people who aren’t easy targets. They’re not going after the folks who are automatically skeptical of any offer that seems too good to be true. They prey on people who were raised in an era when people trusted each other more, on people whose faculties might not be as sharp as they once were and on people whose financial situations make them especially vulnerable to flimflammers.

A healthy level of skepticism is the best, first line of defense against these scams. There is no federal program to pay household bills, and if there were, it’s unlikely that it would be a widely kept secret, known only to a few of your neighbors. There’s no legitimate reason for anybody to call you and ask for Social Security number, credit card number or banking information. Your bank already has this information, and the government can probably find it quicker than you can.

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Perhaps most important because of the element of physical danger that could be involved, is this: Never allow anyone into your home unless you already know and trust them; someone who would defraud you of your savings might not stop at causing you financial harm.

Those tips seem obvious to most of us. But scammers continue to try to bilk people because folks so often make such easy targets. Do the vulnerable — especially elderly — people in your life a favor: Share these tips with them, even if they seem obvious to you. Your actions could save their finances.