Elliott Greenblott | Fraud Watch: More New Year's resolutions to avoid scams

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By now you should be well on the way to keeping your New Year's resolutions. We started with dieting and generosity. We'll finish the short list with four easy ones: staying healthy, making friends, treating yourself, and protecting others.

Staying healthy takes time and can be inconvenient, but pays off in the long run. If you use a computer or other device, be sure you update software, malware protection and operating systems. Yes, if you are not experiencing problems it is cheaper to just leave things alone (If it ain't broke, why fix it?) but updates provide security fixes and protect against new threats. Running old Windows XP or Vista is like playing Russian Roulette with bullets in all the chambers.

The same is true for virus protection, even on Apple products like Macintosh computers, iPads, and iPhones. Consider payment for annual updates the same way you consider home or car insurance. Seriously consider ordering credit freezes for the major credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion. Freezes can be inconvenient and may carry nominal fees but provide you with some safety from identity theft and scams that utilize your credit reports.

There are two types of people: those who are victims of identity theft and those who will become victims. With an aging population, Medicare fraud is on the rise. Review you monthly Medicare and insurance statements, reporting any irregularities.

Making friends can make life more enjoyable. It can also put you in jeopardy when you befriend an online stranger. Con artists can be skillful impersonators. By using social media and readily available information, they pose as friends, family members, romantic interests or others who share your interests. A scam can develop over a period time and after gaining your confidence you are asked for help via a gift or loan.

Sharing information in chat rooms or social media also can put you at risk. Innocent comments about an upcoming vacation could be read as "We'll be away from the house so help yourself." Descriptive information or captioned family photos are great opportunities for con artists who employ the "Grandparent Scam" ("Hi, grandma! I'm in jail in Montreal and need bail money. Get some gift cards and read the card numbers and pins to me over the phone.")

Always ask yourself "Would I act this way if I was approached by a total stranger on the street?"

Treating yourself can be one of the easiest resolutions to maintain. "Free" gift offers come by phone, in the mail, and on the computer. The attraction is clear - free money, gift cards, prizes.

Beware of any offers that require advance payments, include fees, or need you to provide credit card information. Free gifts should be just that, free. When processing fees, shipping costs, or taxes need to be paid up front, the "gift" is not free and may be a scam.

Treating yourself to a lottery ticket or "scratch" ticket at a local business can provide some excitement, benefits a good cause, and may result in some winnings but know that foreign lottery ticket sales are illegal. Always ask yourself the question "is this offer too good to be true?"

Treating yourself may also involve making that special purchase you have been delaying until the right moment. Once you make the decision to move forward, the level of anxiety or excitement increases at about the same rate of speed as the sense of logic and rationality decreases.

Don't fall victim to high pressure sales tactics or "today only" offers. While they may be totally legitimate, avoid rushed decisions as they be unwise.

Protecting others: Help a friend, neighbor or family member by passing along these suggestions and becoming a Fraud Watch Network Volunteer. All you need is a willingness to educate yourself and interest in helping others. Contact your State AARP office for information: AARP New York 866-227-7442 or nyaarp@aarp.org; AARP Vermont at (866) 227-7451 or vtaarp@aarp.org; or contact me, egreenblott@aarp.org. Fraud watch volunteers help educate the public by staffing information tables, distributing materials, and conducting seminars for small and large groups.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator who serves as the Vermont AARP Fraud Watch Network Coordinator.     


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