- Written by Karen Telleen-Lawton Karen Telleen-Lawton
My most worn keyboard key is “delete.”
On my phone, the hang-up button gets more than its fair share of use.
It costs me a lot of energy to reduce my email inbox to a manageable level and avoid clicking on misleading ads.
How can we all be savvy decision-makers without devolving into suspicious old geezers? How can we be open, confident consumers without getting scammed?
Scams are crimes whose perpetrators prey upon our misplaced trust and sometimes our naiveté. Granted, we must maintain some level of trust to operate in the world. We are social creatures who want and need to trust our fellow human beings.
When the trust involves sharing our information or money, three good consumer habits will discourage scammers from making moves on us. A fourth will discourage them from preying on the next guy because of the reception they got from you.
As we approach and enjoy our Medicare years, scammers begin targeting us because that’s where the money is. They also hope we’re not evaluating decisions as clearly as in our younger years.
The clearest way to fight back is to verify the source of any demand for payment, prize offer, or information request. Never offer or provide your valuables (money or information) until you are certain it is justified.
Be gracious but firm. If your polite, reasonable requests for clarification are unsuccessful, be impolite and firm.
For purchases you do make, consider the advantages of credit card transactions. We remember the days when cash was the safest. It’s still a good idea when your main concern is keeping a strict budget.
However, credit cards have several advantages and no extra costs if you pay them off each month.
For one, cardholders receive a monthly credit card statement that shows where you’re spending your money. Always review your credit card statement and call when there are charges you don’t understand.
Yes, the abbreviations can be cryptic. Parenthetically, if enough of us call to inquire about enough transactions, credit card companies likely would demand clearer labels from merchants.
Besides the accounting advantage, credit cards usually have consumer protections against fraud. You can contest a charged payment and get your money back more easily than if you had paid cash.
My husband says the best advantage of using credit cards for large purchases is the flight mile rewards. These do seem to get harder to use over time, though.
One of the trickiest scams to protect against is the computer link that thrusts us headfirst into cyberspace.
Links connect us to the rich value of the internet for business, shopping, and amusement. Links are also a common way for scammers to burrow into our computers. Can you trust a link sent by a favorite retailer, a friend, or a shipper like Amazon or FedEx?
Your first line of defense is to hover your cursor over the link without clicking it. This will give you the underlying website URL. A short, straightforward link to the correctly spelled location you’re familiar with is a good sign.
Government websites should have a suffix of .gov, companies .com, and other organizations use .org.
If there is anything suspicious looking about the link, then call, email, or do a browser search for the sender using an address you find independently. You also might want to copy and enter (without clicking on it) the suspicious link into a link checker. Norton, Google, and URLVoid all provide these services.
Shippers send links when your package is on the way. It would be simple to click the link but safer to return to the original email confirming your original purchase. Use the link provided there, or call or chat using information provided with your purchase.
As a financial adviser, I was occasionally asked how to discern a legitimate investment from a scam. Some people enjoy — and can afford — risky investments that might pay off big or come up short.
The first step would be to determine a single sum or monthly amount you can afford to lose, and stick to your limits. Seek information from trusted friends and advisers, not unsolicited proposals or emails.
Then research the investment vehicle — gold, cyber coin, REITs, options, or whatever. Allow yourself the thrill of the game. After all, it’s only money.
Finally, if you are subject to a scam or an attempt, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission. This may get you some resolution, but even if you’re still out some cash, it may prevent others from falling prey to those crimes.
Let’s make sure these guys get what they deserve: a criminal record, not our hard-earned money!
1. Trust but verify.
2. Know your credit card.
3. Be wary of links.
4. If you’re scammed, report it.
Karen Telleen-Lawton helps seniors help themselves by providing bias-free financial advice. She is a Certified Financial Planner professional, the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara, California (decisivepath.com). You can reach her with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.