Show Notes for this Episode:
Economic downturns tend to be prime time for scammers. They seek to take advantage when people are feeling desperate and uncertain. With more Americans online than ever before and using mobile devices, this also gives scammers more opportunities to take advantage.
The Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic recession is no exception. Scammers are sending malicious links through emails and texts, creating bogus charities, and trying to intercept stimulus checks.
Scammers especially prey on the elderly with Social Security and Medicare scams being favorite targets.
In this episode, you will learn:
- the most common forms of fraud, scams, and identity theft today
- how to recognize if you are being scammed
- ways to protect yourself from getting scammed in the first place
You will also hear a story about how my own Mother was the victim of a Social Security scam.
Links/Resources shared in this episode:
- https://www.identitytheft.gov/ (report identify theft and get paths to recovery)
- https://oig.ssa.gov/ (report Social Security scams)
- Create your “my Social Security” personal account: https://www.ssa.gov
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00:00 Beware of scams. They're on the rise right now.
00:10 Welcome to the Midlife Money Gal podcast. I'm Stephanie Sammons an experienced certified financial planner helping women professionals navigate midlife and money.
00:27 Yeah, the scammers and the fraudsters, they're out there and they are definitely trying to take advantage of this time when the economy is pretty much in the tank and everybody's at home. More people are online than ever before and online more often than normal. And this is becoming a big problem. So I thought I would talk about it today and kind of lets you know what I'm seeing out there and what I'm hearing about and reading about and then give you some tips in case this happens to you in case you get taken advantage of or you become a victim of one of these scammer networks or people. And it's really unfortunate because bad economic times just tend to bring out the worst in con artists and people like this. And so you really have to keep your antenna tuned in and be alert and be paying attention and be monitoring all of your financial accounts and these sorts of things so that you will know immediately if you're being taken advantage of.
02:00 Back in January, I think it was, I got a call from my mom and I was in Nashville at the time working on a music project and she called in the, actually my dad called first and we were talking about what happened, what to do about it and then I called my mom to help her with it. But anyway, she's 77 she's great golfer, you know, has lots of friends, big social circle, very active in great shape, smart, the whole nine yards. She doesn't work anymore. My dad, I think you've heard me talk about runs a health store, local health store that he has had for about 25 years. Very, very successful business owner. Anyway, he was at work up at the health store and my mom gets a call on her cell phone from another woman claiming to be from the social security administration office.
03:07 Very nice. Very nice lady. I'm not sure what it said on my mom's caller ID, but it was not identified as a spam risk, which we can see that sometimes on our phones when we get calls from strange numbers that it comes up and says spam risk. In fact, uh, I was hanging out with my family one day and my dad said, golly, this, this gal keeps calling me and she just won't leave me alone. I don't know what she wants. I think she wants to date me, whatever. And he shows his phone and it says "spam risk". So he's, he's quite the prankster. But anyway, my mom gets this call and the woman says, I'm from the social security administration office and we believe that somebody was trying to use your social security number and that it may have been stolen.
04:08 And what I need for you to do is to verify your social security number with us so I can compare it to what we have on file and let's make sure that you know, that it hasn't been stolen. And so my mom just immediately goes into, Oh my gosh, okay, hold on a minute. Let me get that for you. And so my mom gives the woman her social security number and then the woman also said, well, okay great. That's what we have on file. I think that's okay, but just in case, what is the name of your bank so we can verify that it is you and that this is the bank that you're using. So she gives out the name of her bank, which is all they need. They don't even need your bank account number. They need your social security number, your date of birth and where you bank.
05:03 And I think they also had a verify her date of birth. Then they hang up and they go on their Merry way. Well, my mom called my dad said, well, I just got the strangest call from the social security administration. They think my ID has been stolen. And my dad was like, Oh my gosh, no, that's a scam. That's a, those are fraudsters trying to take advantage of you. And so that's when we went into the mode of, Oh my gosh, what do we do? Let's let's get this taken care of as soon as possible. And so I basically set aside everything I was doing at the time in Nashville and worked on this problem. You know, if this happens to you or this happens to a loved one or parents, elderly parents in your life, grandparents, whatever you need to plan on spending about at a half a day, if not the majority of your day, taking steps to remedy the situation.
06:05 That is, unless you put some protections in place upfront and you prepare for this, which is what all walked through toward the end of this show today. So I can help you since I've been through this kind of know what to do if it happens to you or to a loved one. So a few things to note. You know I mentioned earlier that bad economic times bring out the worst in these kinds of people. In these groups, we have stimulus checks that have been going out to individuals. That has been just a ripe opportunity for scammers to try and intercept those payments. We have more Americans spending a lot more time online, which means they can be clicking on malicious links that are inside of emails or visiting websites with embedded links that are designed to infect your computer or gather information from you. There are all kinds of fake charities popping up asking for money to help, uh, during, you know, to help with something related to the Corona virus pandemic.
07:25 So, you know, the bottom line is the scammers are having a total heyday with this. Seniors are the most vulnerable. They tend to have more assets, more income, and they're more trusting in general. And so that is why, you know, a very intelligent senior person can get scammed. Um, it's mainly because they haven't been educated about what could go wrong. And gosh, my bad for not talking to my parents about this before. I've definitely learned a lesson from that. But hopefully you can learn from, from my mistake and have this conversation with the elderly people in your life and help them get these protections in place. The federal trade commission has received 45,000 really more than that 45,000 and growing Corona virus related complaints and they have tallied up a loss of about $34 million so far that that people have been swindled out of. Essentially, I mentioned this earlier, but caller ID on your mobile phone may not even identify that it is a scammer calling you spam.
08:58 As I was talking about earlier, that spam risk that does show up on your phone, that may or may not be a scammer, right? There's kind of a difference there. A scammer is going to be probably more sophisticated and in some cases these groups are able to even have it show up on your caller ID that they are calling from the social security office, which is just crazy scary. Other scammers are offering to help you get your stimulus check more quickly if you are expecting one or if you haven't received yours yet. Hopefully you have, but there may be more stimulus rolled out by Congress, more stimulus checks that will be sent. So you want to be aware of this. If you are one of those people who is eligible for some stimulus help, there are official looking web pages around this whole stimulus check thing that are designed to capture your personal and private information.
10:11 There are even social media posts that lead you to these web pages. Um, there are Medicare scams happening where you've got scammers out there pedaling Corona, virus related test kits, protective gear, all kinds of remedies. It's just a time to be on very, very high alert. Now, where would you most commonly get in trouble? So it can start with a phone call like exactly what happened to my mom. The people are just calling you directly. You can receive an email that has a malicious link within the email. And this is a huge problem with businesses and employees receiving spammy emails or scammy emails, if that's even a word scammy, where they've got a link in there that's malicious and they click on the link and they end up infecting their entire office network of computers, all the data and applications they get locked down. And this is called ransomware, where the the group that the criminals that are going after this data, they don't want your data, they don't really care about that as much as they care about receiving a ransom to unlock your data and give it back to you.
11:46 And then when you cough up the ransom, then they destroy it all anyway so it doesn't work to pay the ransom. This is actually happening at hospitals and I've read of a read about a number of businesses and municipalities being impacted by this ransomware stuff. So I don't care if you're on your work email or your personal email. If you don't recognize the sender and there is a link trying to get you to click on something enticing or asking for personal information, do not do it. Do not take the risk. You might consider installing antivirus software that can identify these emails and capture them and keep them out of your inbox completely. So that is something I recommend. If you've got a small business, if you work for a larger company, they probably have something like this. A lot of times this is a problem with smaller companies, so emails with malicious links and attachments do not open attachments from centers that you cannot identify attachments to your email, text messages with links do not respond to strange unrecognizable text messages. Do not click on links that are sent to you through a text message that can also get you in trouble. And then the social security administration is warning that actual physical letters are being sent out to beneficiaries who are receiving social security payments and they are threatening saying that your payments could be suspended or canceled because of the Corona virus pandemic unless you call us immediately. So this is the latest one. These letters going out claiming to be from the social security administration.
13:54 There are many more scams out there and I am just highlighting a few of them, but hopefully now you can be more aware and know what to look for. So what do you do if you think you've been victimized or taken advantage of or you have, you know, inadvertently clicked on a link or given up information, what do you do next? And like I said earlier, plan on a half a day to a day if this happens to you or, or a loved one and you've got to get it, get into gear and start to remedy the situation.
14:43 Number one, you can set up a fraud alert. And I basically did all of these steps for my mom. That's what took me all day really. But like I said, you can do this ahead of time and then you're protected. You're not going to have to worry about these things if you, if you set yourself up correctly. So number one, you can set up a fraud alert with all three credit bureaus and all you have to do is set it up with one of them. So there's equity, Equifax, trans union. And uh, the third one is escaping me at the moment, but hopefully I'll think of it, go to one of these credit bureaus and set up a fraud alert and they are obligated then to let the other credit bureaus know about this so that your fraud alert will cover all three credit bureaus.
15:44 This fraud alert will last for a year. And basically what it does is Experian, that's the other one, sorry. All right. So basically what it does is that before you can be extended credit for if you're opening a new credit card, if you're applying for a mortgage or getting a new car or anything that involves credit, the credit bureaus have to, the creditor has to identify who you are. So your identity has to be verified before the creditor can pull your credit or open an account on your behalf. And so there has to be, they have to call and get some kind of identifiable information about you before anything can happen. So the fraud alert provides this layer of protection and it's a pretty good layer of protection to have on there. What you have to remember about it is that it does only last for a year.
16:52 Now you can apply for an extended fraud alert, but that's really involved. It lasts seven years. You probably don't have to go to that length unless you have really been, you've had your identity stolen and you've really been a victim of identity theft in a major way. Number two, you could put a credit freeze in place and that is a total lockdown of your credit. And we did a credit freeze with my mom because she rarely if ever, has the need to apply for any kind of credit. Uh, normally it's my dad doing something like that. So there was no downside to us putting a freeze on her credit accounts on her through all these, the three credit bureaus. Now when you do a credit freeze, you have to contact each Bureau individually. So you can't just put it on one like you can a fraud alert and expect it to cover all of them.
17:57 You have to contact each one separately. It's a total lockdown. So what do you do? Let's say you're applying for a mortgage, well you're, you're going to refinance your mortgage or something like that. What happens if you've got a credit freeze in place with all three credit bureaus? Well, you have to unlock that, freeze yourself and you get a special pin number which allows you to unlock that credit freeze immediately. So you would go to the special website that they've set up either any of the three credit bureaus and you would put in your pin number, your special pin number. So the biggest challenge there is keeping up with your pin number and keeping it somewhere safe. So you may or may not want to do a credit freeze, but all you have to remember is that it just, it's an extra step. If you are applying for some kind of credit, you're going to have to go in and unfreeze your credit and then freeze it back after the creditor has checked your credit report.
19:10 All right. Next, call your bank. If you have been a victim of identity theft or of any of these scammers situations I've talked about, call your bank and ask them what to do to protect your bank accounts. Some banks will have you close your accounts and open new accounts under new account numbers. Some banks will be able to quickly add a pin number which has to be used to access your bank accounts online or in person. A secret pin number. It just depends on the bank. But this was another thing we had to do with my mom because she gave out the name of her bank, so she had to go up to her bank and tell them what happened and they told her they would take care of it and they put some protections in place on her behalf. So all banks are different in the way that they do that. But call your bank and if you think that you have been compromised in any way,
20:16 next you want to report that your social security number, your identity has been stolen. So there are a couple of ways to do that. The first way is you go to identity theft.gov and I will put all these links in my show notes for this episode. It's midlife money gal.com forward slash the number 49 four nine that's where you'll find the notes for this episode. Identity theft.gov where you can report that your identity has been stolen and that website gives some great recovery tips and paths to follow. If you have been victimized, depending on exactly what happened, exactly what information was given up or stolen or compromised for your social security number, if that number has been stolen, you can go to O I G. Dot. S S a.gov now notice both of these websites end in a.gov not a.com. There are legitimate government websites where you can report when your identity has been stolen or your social security number has been stolen.
21:45 You want to do this so that you alert the proper authorities to be on the lookout and to monitor for any suspicious activity that might come up. Is that enough? I don't think so. Uh, you also need to still do the fraud alert, possibly credit freeze. But it's a good idea to go to these government websites and report when something has been stolen. Now another thing that you want to do if you haven't done so already is you want to claim your social security count, social security [email protected] that's the main social security website that the government has for us to go and claim our personal social security account online. And the reason you wanna do this is so that no one else can claim your social security account. Cause if that happens, that's really a nightmare. So we did this for my mom and fortunately we did it quickly enough that no one else had a chance to go in and claim that they were her on the ssa.gov websites, what's called my social security.
23:10 And you'll see that on there where you can create your own my social security account online. Now, I will warn you that man, they ask some tough questions but it's good because they are verifying your identity and you're going to have to reach way back into the way back machine to remember places that you've lived, cars that you've driven in the past or owned in the past, all kinds of difficult things to remember where you've had a credit card account opened in the year 2014 you know tough stuff so you may have trouble getting through those identification questions but just keep trying and you'll get there and you're just going to have to maybe do some research and remember then maybe look at some old records to figure it out. But so far we haven't had a problem. Kay, my spouse and I have both done that.
24:17 It took us a couple of tries with my mom. I thought that was going to be really difficult but we were able to get through it. So once you claim your social security account, you can actually see all of your social security data in there as well. You can see what's your benefit going to be or estimated to be at full retirement age. What about at age 70 if you wait and earn that extra 8% per year on your benefit, if you wait and take social security later, if that makes sense for you, it may not make sense. You have to run the numbers and see and then you can see what your benefit would be if you take it early at age 62 and of course if you take it early you are penalized. You're not going to get as much, but it's a cool website.
25:08 You can also print your statement and get just everything you need to know about your social security benefits. I recommend doing that no matter what. It's just good to have that information for planning purposes. The last tip I have for you to protect yourself more so than trying to remedy a situation that's already gone wrong is monitor all of your accounts, your bank accounts, your credit card statements, your investment accounts, your insurance accounts, monitor your accounts, your business accounts, checking, savings, everything at least at least on a monthly basis. And look for anything fraudulent or unusual or suspicious going on in those accounts. A few months ago, I have a Southwest airlines credit card where I earned miles for Southwest, which is what I fly a lot down here in Texas and I look in my account one day and I had probably 25 Uber charges all in the same day, totaling over $600.
26:34 And so I was able to immediately contact my credit card company and let them know, Hey, this was not me. I have no idea how they got my credit card number, but these are fraudulent. And so they were able to take care of it quickly, reverse the charges and send me out a new card with a new number. But you've got to be checking these cybercriminals are getting so smart. It is scary and the threats are everywhere. And the threat alert right now during this economic difficult economic time is just off the charts. It's so high. So I am just begging you to start thinking about this and review your accounts and protect yourself. You might also want to take it a step further and pay for a monitoring service so that you can monitor if your identity is stolen. And one thing that these services do is they help you.
27:42 If that happens, they help you recover and they act quickly on your behalf. And then you've got somebody you can call to help you do all this. So that might be worth it to you. And I'm personally looking into this right now for my family, but the most popular service, I don't really have one that I recommend. I don't know enough about them yet, but the one that is most recognizable and the most popular that I have found is LifeLock. So you might want to check something like that out. It's not terribly expensive. I'm not sure exactly what it costs, but Hey, you know, it might be worth it as we live in this digital world and the cyber criminals are getting better and better at scamming us and taking advantage of us. So I hope that this has been helpful to you and that you'll take some steps to protect yourself and you will be on high alert during this pandemic during this economic recession. And just be careful out there. Show notes for this episode, midlife money, gal.com forward slash 49 the number 49 thanks so much for listening and I will, I'll be back next week.
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