What is a scam?
A scam is a trick that a con artist plays on an unsuspecting victim. There's always a financial motive: to extort money from you. However, scams can fail when you know how to recognize them.
What follows is a detailed look at scammers and their patterns of behavior—especially how they go after seniors. With this information, you'll be able to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
Profile of a scammer
A scammer is often a master of persuasion with a plausible story. Or they might be the ultimate salesperson with a tempting offer. They'll pinpoint your vulnerabilities and gain your trust. When they take advantage of you, they'll show no mercy.
Scammers are highly skilled at their trade. Typically they'll:
- Appeal to your emotions of sympathy, fear and loneliness
- Never take "no" for an answer
- Urge you to keep things confidential
- Prey on vulnerable people
Spotting a scam when it happens
All scams have these warning signs:
- Immediate action required
- Insistence on secrecy
- Money needed up front
- Hard-to-track payment methods
The varieties of scams
Scams take many different shapes. The most popular ones are described here.
You can spot a giveaway scam by these telltale signs. First, you'll receive a letter, email or call from a stranger who's thrilled to announce that you're a winner. Then they:
- Pressure you to accept the giveaway immediately
- Ask for an up-front payment to release your winnings
- Tell you to secure the prize with a reservation
- Say that you have to prepay taxes on the award
Imposter scams prey on your desire to protect loved ones. They typically involve:
- An urgent call from someone posing as your family member or dear friend
- News that a family member or friend is in serious trouble
- The requirement that you immediately send money to resolve a problem
- A desperate need for secrecy
You can spot a phony charity scam when you run across:
- Urgent pleas for humanitarian help
- Pressure to make immediate donations
Sometimes these scams are quasi-legitimate. Other times, they're little more than a sad story and a carefully chosen name.
Fake investment opportunities often tout themselves as:
- Risk-free investments
- Guaranteed to provide above-average returns
You should become suspicious if they require an immediate purchase. They'll also hide mention of commissions.
When a contractor is an imposter, they usually follow this formula. They'll:
- Solicit a job by pointing out an "urgent" problem
- Ask for up-front payment in cash
- Begin the job, but claim it’s much more serious than initially thought
- Demand more money
- Disappear with the work unfinished
You should be wary if you receive notice of a tax payment due, and it has these characteristics:
- An official-looking letter claims you're seriously delinquent on taxes. It gives a (202) area code phone number for you to call.
- The person who answers says you can avoid prosecution if you pay what’s due within 24 hours.
- They ask you to make your payment by wire transfer or a cashier's check.
Why scammers target seniors
Older adults make an attractive target for scammers. They have regular income, and have built up a lifetime of assets. Seniors also may be:
- More trusting or willing to listen
- Grateful for attention
- Eager to help when they can
- Afraid of outliving assets
How you can block them
You can fight back and protect yourself by doing the following:
- Register with National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov(opens in a new tab) to limit phone calls
- Register with www.DMAchoice.org(opens in a new tab) to limit junk mail
- Use anti-virus software
- Be very cautious about clicking on any email links
- Limit the personal information you share on social media
Build your defenses
Develop these habits to make sure you're well-protected from scams:
- Be suspicious of any situation that requires you to send money up front
- Assume that an insistence on secrecy is a ploy to deceive
- Confirm all stories, offers or charities independently
- Choose the privacy settings on social media accounts
If you're a victim
It's important to speak up. You'll need help if you've been a victim of fraud. You'll have to remember:
- Be brave—there's no reason to feel embarrassed
- Tell someone you trust
- Report the scam to your bank
- Contact the police and federal agencies
Your bank can help
Your financial institution can help protect you from fraud. They'll:
- Monitor your account for unusual activity
- Ask why you're withdrawing large amounts of cash
- Suggest giving a person you trust access to review your account activity
- Explain why scammers prefer certain payment methods
- Provide referrals to a licensed broker or registered investment adviser
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The information provided is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. BB&T hopes you find this information useful but we cannot guarantee that it is accurate, up to date, or appropriate for your situation. Financial calculators are provided to assist you in estimating the approximate costs associated with any bank activity. Your actual costs may vary. You should consult with a qualified attorney or financial advisor to understand how the law applies to your particular circumstances or for financial information specific to your personal or business situation.
Branch Banking and Trust Company, Member FDIC.