How to avoid falling prey to the latest phone and online scams
It seems like every time one scam disappears, three more pop up in its place.
In an effort to help turn the tide, the Monmouth County Division of Consumer Affairs held a seminar at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan where they gave residents an overview on consumer fraud alerts and on the latest scams and teaching them the solutions to avoid falling prey to one of these incidents.
The biggest scams out there involve the Military, the IRS, the Social Security Administration and people or businesses hiring home or office improvement contractors.
"The IRS and Social Security Administration will never call you, there will be a certifiable letter saying that you have to initiate a phone call. Tech support will never call you either," Dave Salkin, Monmouth County Consumer Affairs Director said.
These phone scams are intended to scare you into paying money and providing personal information you don't owe them.
"It's always a person trying to scare you and the trick is to slow down and think about what they're asking and ask yourself 'does it make sense someone would call me out of the blue?' and the answer is no," Salkin said. "Just hang up the phone."
With home improvement scams, Salkin urges consumers to do their research.
"People should know who their doing business with before they spend big money on things," Salkin said.
One scam that is shocking but very much a real thing involves military families.
A scammer will call someone's home late at night and tell them their child or grandchild was killed in a training drill or in the line of duty and they need to pay money to have their body delivered back to the United States.
"If you have a loved one in the military you know that if something God forbid happened, someone's going to knock at your door, an officer and usually a clergyman, to sit you down and tell you what happened," Salkin said. "You're not going to get a phone call in the middle of the night telling you something horrible happened and 'oh, by the way I need your name, address, phone number, social security number, your drivers license and $500 to ship the body to Dover', it just doesn't happen that way."
These scammers are more properly known as social engineers and they wait for an opportunity to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.
"Social engineers are people who pretend to be someone that they're not," Salkin said. "These people aren't dumb, they're smart, creative, convincing and they prey upon your fears."
These social engineers will often make you think the number calling you on your phone is in your area or even your own number, it's an act known as spoofing.
"Spoofing is using an IP address on a computer to create what looks like a phone number coming into your phone," Salkin said. "They (social engineers) know that geographically, I live in Freehold I know it's a 732 area code and the prefix, that 462, 431, 780, etc. I know what the prefixes are in my area so when a phone call comes in and it looks like it's geographically close to me, it appears to be more legit. The odds of me answering the phone are greater so the companies that do this intentionally spoof to look like a local number."
He said these social engineers aren't necessarily calling you all the time, they're making the call repeatedly from the computer every day by the millions, so that's why it's a random call.
It's also important to protect yourself online, whether it's your banking information, email or any website that needs a password. Salkin said it's better to use a pass-phrase.
"Instead of using 'Password1', which will be hacked in .29 of 1 second, use something like 'only3ofmy5grandchildrenevercallme!!' because it's so many characters. Something that's 20-30 characters long is very difficult maybe even impossible to break that," Salkin said.
He said it's also best practice to keep your list of passwords hand-written in your desk and not on your computer.
The reason being, Salkin explained, is that if someone hacks into your computer and finds your list of passwords they now have access to all of your personal information.
He also recommends having a good anti-virus software on your computer, especially one you have to pay for to get better protection.
You are the best protection against these scams. Slow it down and think smart.
"If somebody contacts me out of the blue and wants a bunch of personal information...why would I share that information? I'm not giving anybody anything," Salkin said. "If they're contacting me and acting like they know me, well then some of this stuff they should already know. If you're calling me and saying 'I need your name and address', 'well you just called me, don't you know who I am? Why would I give you my name?' Again, it's slowing down and being a little more thoughtful to protect yourself."
Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry, who serves as the liaison to the county Division of Consumer Affairs, said there's a large concern with respect to consumer products as well so you need to be careful.
"It becomes move involved and more dangerous as time goes on," Burry said. "It's become so sophisticated with the internet and Siri whose constantly monitoring what you're doing and saying. The solution is being informed, inform yourself."