Fraud Watch Network: A self-defense against scams

REGION – It’s springtime. Wedding plans finalized? College-bound high school seniors applying for loans? Spring cleaning and home improvement are priorities? Considering long postponed vacations? While appearing to be unrelated, criminals see these ordinary rites of spring as opportunities to profit from human behavior.

One approach to discussing spring scams is to examine each scam in detail. Such a comprehensive approach is not very practical. Instead, much can be learned by focusing on some general motivations that can expose us to victimization: comradery, emotion, empathy, obedience, opportunity, scarcity. When manipulated by a professional criminal, practically everyone is capable of falling victim.

Defense against many of the scams being perpetrated is skepticism. As victims, we are willing to believe and accept even outrageous propositions because they seem very attractive: a free smart phone or computer or a valuable gift card. Instead of applying logic or even a mild degree of skepticism, we fall for the ruse because it appeals to a feeling that we are receiving something desirable or valuable. Similarly, when presented with a chance to cope with scarcity, such as an effective vaccine or quality personal protective equipment, we fail to question reality, choosing to accept even something that is unlikely rather than apply any degree of caution. The lure of beating scarcity simply can be too strong.

Another “trap” can be the desire to empathize and help those in need. Here we are tempted to respond to the needs of others but once again fail to apply logic or reason, even to the point of verifying the need. Similarly, we have a tendency toward obedience and submission to authority when faced with what we see as official – many of the most successful scams involve the impersonation of government officials threatening or coercing compliance.

The final factor in this discussion involves our quest for acceptance by our peers – comradery. We seek acceptance from others by participating in what we believe to be socially acceptable activities, but once again we become involved without grounding our behavior with a degree of caution.

While skepticism is critical to avoid becoming a scam victim, so is patience. Scammers often emphasize the need for the potential victim to act in haste without taking the necessary time to be fully informed. This means that the criminal often stresses expediency and immediate commitment. Examples include an emphasis on rapid decision-making providing no time to reconsider.

Having reviewed the root motivations involved with scams, regardless of message delivered, we can look at the specific steps to keep from becoming a victim. While not providing a perfect defense, you can go a long way in terms of self-defense by applying the following strategies:

  • Never make a decision while in a heightened emotional state. Inevitably, it will be the wrong decision.
  • Ask questions! This will put you in control of the situation. The reverse is true if you allow the scammer to be in control.
  • Don’t make a decision – whether it involves a purchase or donation – without conducting a thorough study, including one involving the party posing the opportunity to you.
  • Develop a refusal script as a way to disengage from the conversation. It can be as simple as saying, “No.”
  • Tell the person making the offer that you want to review the terms of an offer and to mail you the details – I’ll make a bet with you: you will never see the details.
  • Watch for “red flags” such as personal questions and requests for personal and financial data.
  • Delay making immediate decisions. Some criminals will try to convince you to make commitments with a comment that you can always cancel. In this type of situation, walk (run) away.

Armed with these details and applying them to suspicious situations, you should be well prepared to act in your own defense.

  Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. Contact

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