In the first installment of this series, we delved into two prevalent scams aimed at senior citizens this year: the grandparent scam and cryptocurrency theft. In this week’s blog post, I will reveal two additional scams that both you and your parents should be cognizant of, along with advice for maintaining safety.
Let’s dive in.
03 | PERSONALIZED PHISHING EMAILS
Imagine finding an urgent email in your inbox from what appears to be a trustworthy source – it could be your bank, a well-known online retailer, or even a social media site. The email states that there has been some unusual activity on your account and prompts you to click on a link or share sensitive information to confirm your identity. This is a quintessential phishing email – a clever ploy designed to trick you into disclosing your personal details.
Phishing has existed since the inception of email, but what has evolved is the extent to which scammers mimic authenticity. Even if you or your parents are acquainted with the tactics of phishing emails, the continuous innovations in technology are making it increasingly challenging to identify a phishing attempt.
Same Scammers, New Tricks
Phishers frequently masquerade as authoritative organizations such as banks, government agencies, or retail stores. However, in recent times, phishers have been crafting more personalized emails to deceive victims into believing the message is from someone they know or have a personal connection with. The email will typically address the victim by their first name and may seem to be sent from a friend, colleague, or boss. It could even include a seemingly genuine email domain, signature, or logo.
Usually, the email will assert that there is an urgent matter that requires immediate attention, such as buying a gift for a colleague’s birthday or a significant client and will request the victim to make the purchase using online gift cards, PayPal, or cryptocurrency.
For instance, you might receive an email that says:
“Hello Mark, this is Mr. Supervisor. I will be occupied with meetings throughout the day, but it’s crucial to send a gift to our new client immediately. Could you kindly purchase a $200 Amazon gift card and send it to this email address? I will then forward it to our client.”
Phishers sometimes pose as banks, lending institutions, or debt relief services, informing you that you have been approved for special credit or financial aid. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the suspension of student loans, and the hurricane season, you might have encountered an email like this:
“Hello Sarah, this is Greg from the Relief Support Program. We attempted to reach you at your home but received no response… I am uncertain if you have already communicated with an assigned agent, but I noticed that you are pre-approved for our Relief Program. Therefore, I will maintain this as pending. Kindly contact me between 8 AM and 10 AM EST to discuss the details. My phone number is 555-123-4567.
Spotting Scams: The Devil is in the Details
Before responding to any email that asks you to click on a link or for a phone call, assess the legitimacy of the request. Did you really create an account or complete an application? Is it common for your employer to contact you via email for these types of matters?
Always examine the sender’s email address carefully, even if it appears authentic. To disclose its actual origin, hover your mouse over the email address. Refrain from clicking on dubious links and never divulge personal details via email, regardless of how official the sender’s email seems.
Inspect the email and the “from address” for spelling errors and validate the sender’s details, such as the company name and contact number, by conducting an online search. If uncertain, reach out to the company using official means to verify the genuineness of the communication.
04 | THE ONLINE OVERPAYMENT SCAM
In the virtual marketplace, on sites like Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Craigslist, scammers are ramping up their attacks and succeeding by taking advantage of others’ good nature.
In the overpayment scam, a scammer contacts the target, expressing interest in purchasing an item that the target has listed online. The scammer agrees to purchase your item, often at a higher price, and appears to make a payment that exceeds the agreed amount.
The scammer then asks you to return the surplus amount they “accidentally” sent, and usually appears agitated, troubled, and hurried. The scammer may even threaten to report the victim to the police for “stealing” their money.
However, here lies the trap: the overpayment made by the scammer is actually fake – a spurious check or a falsified payment confirmation email that gives the illusion of received funds when, in fact, the scammer didn’t send anything at all. When you refund the overpaid amount, you’re essentially parting with your own legitimate money, and by the time the scam is detected, the scammer has already vanished into the digital ether.:
- Always Insist that online purchasers pay via methods that can be tracked, such as PayPal, Cash App, or Venmo.
- Refrain from transferring money to and from unknown individuals using irreversible money transfer services like Zelle.
- Do not accept payment exceeding the sale price.
- If the purchaser requests a refund, confirm the receipt of funds by checking your balance in your payment service account. Do not depend on a confirmation email as it can be effortlessly fabricated, particularly if there is no payment reflected in your account.
Securing Your Wealth and Safeguarding Your Loved Ones
Keeping up with the ever-evolving landscape of financial scams can be daunting, but armed with the correct information and resources, you can shield yourself and your elderly parents from the monetary and emotional damage caused by scams.
As your Life and Legacy law firm, we are here to facilitate a conversation between you and your parents about your financial health as a component of your estate plan. This includes discussing how to document their assets and how to streamline the process of assisting one another during emergencies or scam attempts.
This content is designed solely for educational and informational purposes and is not meant to be ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you require legal advice tailored to your specific needs, you must seek such services independently, separate from this educational content.