By Danna Downing
Over 10,000 people in Michigan file a consumer complaint each year with the Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Department. Given the challenges of completing such a report, we can assume many more citizens are experiencing consumer fraud than is reported. It has happened to my friends, neighbors, and clients.
It happened to me on January 4. Knowing that scams happen to so many people is absolutely no comfort when you are the victim. It is scary, embarrassing and the recovery process takes many uncomfortable hours of work. It is also amazing to see how clever, well-trained, and persistent the scammers have become.
Like any crisis in our lives, these times can also bestow certain “gifts.” These include discovering the value of having a local bank where you can talk face-to-face with your financial team and other service providers who can assist in navigating the aftermath. For me, there is also the opportunity to share my experiences with others in this column, hopefully in a way that will prevent the reader from learning such lessons the hard way.
A scam can begin with a text message alerting you to an unpaid bill from a known service provider. It includes a phone number to call to take care of your bill and avoid penalties. If you take paying your bills seriously and pay online, this creates a sense of urgency that can make you vulnerable to scams. If you live on a fixed income, and your computer skills are “in development,” your anxiety is further enhanced. A scam can also begin with a call that appears to be from a store that sold you a refrigerator recently and is offering you a special “deal.” Be aware that many stores sell their customer lists on the open market and the call could be coming from a fraudster instead of your vendor.
If you only remember one thing, remember this: No legitimate vendor would contact you this way. Hang up and call the service provider immediately to verify authenticity of the call.
Be aware that the caller can be very evasive, providing false names, acting overly sincere about your health and welfare, persistent and intimidating. When you keep asking questions and they are not answered to your satisfaction, this is a RED FLAG. If after a reasonable amount of time, you still feel unsure, trust your instincts, and hang up. No explanation is required, just hang up. As David from Great Lakes Technology points out: “These folks are very persuasive and clever with technology. They could be great sales people, if they were not con artists!”
As always in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to organized crime schemes. Consider incorporating these recommendations to build a safer future:
• Build a team of trusted resource people including your banker, a source for technical support (computer and phone), and a personal contact with each of your service providers so you have direct access in an emergency.
• Don’t open any emails from unknown sources. Just delete them. Don’t respond to phone calls or texts from unknown numbers.
• Take the time to implement two-factor authentications on your financial accounts.
• Check your monthly statements regularly to identify and report discrepancies.
• Always report any fraud you find to the appropriate authorities to take advantage of the organization’s ability to delete an unwanted charge. This also helps alert vendors and authorities about the nature and frequency of typical scams so that consumers can be warned in advance.
• Visit http://www.michigan.gov/ag, the website of the Michigan Attorney General and the Consumer Protection Department to report consumer fraud, to learn about the latest fraud schemes, report illegal robocalls, and become informed about elder abuse/fraud and Medicaid fraud and patient abuse. The Consumer Protection Department phone number is 877-765-8338.
• Stay vigilant for yourself and others. Don’t get discouraged. Keep learning.
By Danna Downing