Protecting yourself

Talking about fraud can help prevent it

Kelly Dilworth

The next time you get a suspicious call or text message, don’t keep it to yourself. Broadcast it to your family members and friends, says the Federal Trade Commission. Your loved ones may be able to help you determine whether the message is legitimate or a scam.

In an effort to combat fraud by getting more people to talk about it, the FTC is encouraging people to open up about their experiences. Talking about fraud can help protect you and your loved ones from getting duped by a legitimate-sounding scam.

Sharing information about a fishy message you received — or about common frauds you’ve heard circulating in the news — can also help prevent people in your circle from falling for similar cons.

Don’t be shy about reporting your fraud experiences, either. Reporting scams to a consumer protection agency, such as the FTC, to your state’s consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau, will help state and federal officials crack down on shady con artists.

The value of a second opinion
While you may feel you’re educated enough to sort out a dubious pitch from a trustworthy one, judging by the frequency of fraud complaints in the U.S., you may be surprised by how easy it is to be misled. According to a February 2016 AARP poll, nearly half of the study’s respondents aged 50 or older had been financially exploited at some point or knew someone who had previously been victimized by financial fraud, theft or scams.

According to the FTC, you can significantly reduce your odds of losing money in a con by being open about the messages you’ve received and sharing them with others. “The FTC’s law enforcement experience and research show that consumers who talk with others when they receive suspicious requests for money are more likely to avoid incurring a financial loss in that transaction than those who do not engage family members, friends or other people,” wrote the Federal Trade Commission in a recent report on fraud. “Sometimes just repeating a scammer’s request can help a consumer to question the scammer’s statements.”

You can even harness the power of social media to get a quick reaction from other people on whether a message sounds fishy or legitimate. My sister-in-law recently did this when she received a suspicious text message. Soon after she relayed the message on Facebook, her friends flooded her with comments warning her it that it sounded like a scam. Your friends may have also received similar messages or heard stories about an identical scheme, giving you even more confidence that you did the right thing by ignoring the message or declining it.

Silence often leads to loss
Too often, people are embarrassed to admit they’ve possibly been fooled and so keep the messages to themselves or decide to engage with scammers without mentioning the scheme to anyone else. “Individuals resist perceiving themselves or their community members as potential victims,” wrote the FTC.

Remaining silent about fishy messages is an especially big problem for the elderly, who are more vulnerable to fraudulent schemes.

Failing to talk about fraud is also a big problem for low-income consumers and recent immigrants, who are disproportionately targeted by scammers trying to take advantage of their gaps in knowledge or education.

According to the FTC, fraud is deeply underreported in low-income communities, in part because so many people are reluctant to talk openly about it. Federal researchers guess that many people fail to file complaints because they don’t trust authorities to protect them or because they don’t think any action will be taken. Many are also unaware of what to do when they encounter fraud and how to report it to the proper authorities.

Empower yourself with information
If you think you’ve been scammed, contact your state’s consumer protection office. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting the agency’s Complaint Assistant page and to the Better Business Bureau by filing a report with the bureau’s Scam Tracker. The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force also has a comprehensive list of other agencies you can contact, depending on the type of fraud you’ve encountered.

To protect yourself from getting scammed, share your doubts with others and educate yourself about common schemes. You may also want to check out anti-fraud resources, such as the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker tool to get a sense of what types of scams are currently going on in your area.

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