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AARP Massachusetts Fraud Watch Network Alerts December 2021

Did you know that someone’s identity gets stolen every two seconds?  The AARP Fraud Watch Network provides you with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud so you can protect yourself and your family.  Our watchdog alerts will keep you up to date on con artists’ latest tricks.  It’s free of charge for everyone:  AARP members, non-members, and people of all ages.  Be a fraud fighter!  If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam. Report scams to local law enforcement. Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork for more information on fraud prevention.

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SCAM ALERT #1: Holiday Shopping Tip – Pick the Right Plastic

If you heed only one tip this holiday shopping season, make it this one: pick the right plastic. A recent AARP survey found that nearly 70% of people shopping online this holiday season plan to pay with a debit card. Choosing this form of payment can make you more vulnerable to fraud losses.

Debit cards deduct money directly from the account it’s connected to. If your card is compromised and the thief goes on a spending spree, the money drained from your account is YOUR money. When you use a credit card and it’s compromised, the thief isn’t spending money from your account but rather from the credit your bank has provided.

Both cards are governed by consumer protections – but there’s a ‘but’. When your credit card is used fraudulently, the issuing credit company will absorb the losses from the shopping spree the thief enjoys. Your costs may be limited to $50, but most issuers waive that.

When your debit card is compromised, your money is gone until you report it and the bank completes an investigation, which could take several weeks.  If you’re relying on that account to pay your rent or mortgage, that delay can put you in a real bind. And if you fail to report the fraud within 60 days, you may not have any recourse to recover your losses at all.  In other words, it’s usually harder to get your money back from the scammer with a debit account.

When shopping online this holiday season do yourself, and your bank account, a favor and leave the debit card in your wallet.

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SCAM ALERT #2:  Gift Card Shopping Tips

Most US consumers will purchase a gift card for someone this holiday season. While these gifts are easy to give and popular to get, they are also open to fraud. A 2021 AARP survey found that one in five people have either given or received a gift card with no funds on it.

Your best bet is to buy gift cards online directly from the issuer. Cards on store racks are easy prey for criminals, who can grab the cards, secretly record the numbers off the back and return the cards to the rack. Carefully inspect cards from the rack to look for signs the PIN has been exposed or manipulated.

And remember, if anyone asks you to pay a debt or obligation with a gift card, it’s a scam.

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SCAM ALERT #3: Veterans Scams

Their time in service to protect our country is over. Now it's our turn to protect our veterans from scams. Veterans deserve our gratefulness, our respect and praise. Here's what they don't deserve: attempts to take advantage of their service. Yet every day, scammers attempt to defraud our veterans of their hard-earned benefits, steal their identity, or take their savings.

These frauds include seeking donations for fake charities claiming to serve our nation’s veterans (always research before giving); targeting veterans with fake employment opportunities (it’s a scam if you have to pay to get the job or provide sensitive personal information); and offers of free cash from little-known government grant programs (the federal government doesn’t hand out grants to individuals).

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SCAM ALERT #4: When Elder Financial Abuse is in the Family

Federal data suggest that losses from elder financial abuse perpetrated by a known person are greater than when the fraud is perpetrated by anonymous scammers. With the holiday family visits upon us, it could be a good time to broach the subject. You might bring up the topic of financial exploitation and segue into asking what they are doing to protect themselves and their money. Above all, respect their right to make their own decisions while they are cognitively able, but leave the lines of communication open.

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SCAM ALERT #5: Stress Can Lead to Scams

As we wrap up a second year of pandemic-induced uncertainty and stress, it’s important to recognize that in addition to making life harder, these factors actually can make us more susceptible to fraud. A recent AARP study found that victims of fraud experienced more than twice as many stressful events as those who avoided attempted scams.

Stressful events consume valuable cognitive capacity that otherwise might be employed to spot and resist fraud. Knowing this, criminals specifically look for ways to target people who may have lost a job, or recently became a widow, for example.  Being aware that you or a loved one’s stressful situation may make you or them susceptible to fraud may be the difference between staying safe or being victimized.

Be a fraud fighter!  If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network is a free resource for all. Learn how to proactively spot scams or get guidance if you’ve been targeted at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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