A couple of years ago, I received an email from Apple notifying me that they had renewed my “Apple Music Family Membership” and charged my credit card $89.38. My immediate thought was “I don’t remember subscribing to that service.”  There was a link in the email where I could cancel or manage the subscription, so I clicked on it, and entered my user name and Apple ID thinking I was on a legitimate Apple website.  As soon as I did, I knew something was wrong and almost immediately thereafter received a notice actually from Apple that my Apple ID had been compromised, and that I should immediately change it.  Fortunately, I was able to change it right away and no harm was done.  But I felt like a big sucker.  I’m normally very careful about those things, but getting a bill for $90 that I knew was not legitimate made me careless for a moment and could have cost me.

Another story:  A few years ago, my dad called in a panic and told me the IRS had called and was threatening to arrest him.  They wanted his banking information so that they could process a payment that would allow him to avoid being arrested. I started to laugh because I had heard that story many times before and knew it was a scam. But he was very serious, and once I calmed him down he was ok.  But he was really worried at first.

I know another person who was using his computer and had a warning pop up telling him that his Microsoft software had a problem that needed to be repaired, and provided a “Microsoft” link to a “technician” who could help.  He clicked on that link and soon was on the phone with the “technician” who needed a payment of almost $500 to cover the cost.  The “technician” also needed to access the computer to apply the “fix”.  The person gave them their credit card information and then watched while the “fix” was being applied.  Fortunately in the midst of that, his son called and, upon learning what was going on, told him to shut down the computer and disconnect it from the internet.  The scamee was able to get part of the $500 back from his credit card company, but the computer was so severely compromised that he had to take it to the Geek Squad at Best Buy to have it wiped and his software reinstalled.  It wound up being an expensive lesson.

The moral to these stories is you can never be too careful protecting yourself from the predators who are anxious and happy to steal your money every hour of every day. Know that you are a target!  These thieves particularly love to prey on older people, many of whom are less tech and computer savvy, and are vulnerable to the scammer’s proven techniques for parting you from your money. They have no conscience, and would happily enjoy their next Caribbean vacation at the expense of your life savings.  They laugh all the way to the bank!

So here’s a few tips to follow:

  • NEVER give any personal information of any kind to someone you didn’t call, including:

– your social security number
– your birthdate
– your address
– any other information they ask for

  • Follow good internet practices, including using a password protected Wi-Fi. If you don’t know how to set it up, it’s worth every penny to hire someone to do it for you. I know a person whose banking information was hacked by a drive-by scammer.  The guy was just driving his van through the neighborhood looking for any un-protected Wi-Fi, and happened to log in to an un-protected Wi-Fi while the person was doing on-line banking, which allowed the scammer to steal that person’s banking information.
  • If you like buying stuff online, consider using a PayPal account. Then the only person who has your credit card or banking information is PayPal because they don’t pass it on to the seller.  If the item doesn’t come or isn’t as expected, you can contest it through PayPal and get your money back.  I know because I’ve done it!
  • Use strong passwords whenever you access the internet. Don’t use the same password on more than one website.  And please don’t just write them all on a pad.  Use a password software application to create, store and remember them.  I’ve been using 1Password for several years and have over 600 logins saved, each with its own complex password.  It’s called “1Password” because the only password I have to remember is the one that gets me into the software program.
  • Don’t sign legal documents without having them reviewed by a third-party – preferably by an attorney or – at the least – a family member. I don’t care how urgently the person at your door implores you to sign it, or how the deal they offered you will be gone if you don’t sign it now – get a second set of eyes on the document before you sign.  It’s too late afterwards.
  • If you don’t recognized the name in the caller ID, think twice about answering it. And if you answer it and wish you hadn’t, just hang up.  There’s no law that says you have to stay on the phone until it is “polite” to hang up.  The scammer on the other end doesn’t care about his/her manners, but he/she will rely on yours to keep you on the phone.
  • NEVER NEVER EVER click on a link in an email from someone you don’t recognize or weren’t expecting to receive an email from. If you get an email like I did that looks like it’s from Apple, or your bank or some other company you’ve done business with, ignore and delete the email and then contact that company directly to inquire about your account if you’re concerned.
  • Know that the IRS does not call people or threaten them by phone. If the IRS has something to say to you, they will do it in a letter.
  • Trust your instincts. If it sounds fishy or too good to be true, it probably is.  Almost every time someone goes against their instincts, they regret it.
  • When in doubt, talk to someone else about whatever it is, whether it’s your child, your best friend, your neighbor or the guy walking his dog. (We know who you are!)  Just get a second set of eyes, ears and thinkers before doing anything!

What stories to you have to share? You may feel embarrassed if you’ve been the victim of a scam, but others may learn from your experience. If you’re willing to share your stories, maybe we can include them in a future newsletter so that others can learn from it.