Smart About Money: Avoiding the scam you could fall for

Nick Maffeo “The phone scams keep on coming – here are tips on how to avoid them” was the headline of a recent Boston Globe consumer protection column.

Tips to avoid scams? Nice in theory. But with so many scams coming from so many directions, your best bet is to be generally aware of the new twists out there while you actively prepare for what you’ll do if one day you’re on the receiving end of a threatening message that actually makes you anxious or even terribly frightened.

Talking to a local businessperson, the “Professional Photographer/Copyright Infringement” scam came up. An email arrives filled with lawsuit threats and a link the recipient is supposed to click to see the supposedly-outrageous “copyright infringement” for themselves.

This gentleman had just gotten the “Professional Photographer/Copyright Infringement” email again that morning but he was not alarmed because he’d seen it about three times before.

The first time, he was going to send the email to his web person in case a photo had been innocently misused. But first he had the idea to Google “professional photographer email scam?” Millions of Google results confirmed it was.

Reassured and relieved, he deleted the scam email and didn’t even bother to reach out to his web person. When a very similar email arrived a few months later and then again the other day, he knew what it was and just hit “Delete.”

Recently a couple in Hingham lost $17,000 to a scammer claiming to be the Chief of Police. They believed the call was genuine because the police department’s main business number showed on their Caller ID. They became overcome with fear so quickly that they followed the criminal scammer’s orders to the letter.

The Hingham police were so sorry about what happened to this couple. They strongly urged people to NOT rely on Caller ID “since it can be altered to display any name or telephone number.” That is 100% true.

Maybe you wouldn’t be frightened by this scam or that scam. People are getting better at recognizing the common scams and ignoring them.

But scammers keep adapting and they specialize in pushing emotional buttons with just-credible-enough claims. One day a scam could “get to you.”

It will be a situation where you’ll be afraid that what you’re being told could be true. The scammer will put tremendous pressure on you to act before you have time to think or control the adrenaline rush, just like the couple in Hingham.

Take the opportunity now – as with a fire drill – to plan for how you and your family and friends will deal with an “alarming news” message threatening to lead to some “dreadful” potential outcome.

First – don’t trust the messenger, no matter who they say they are or what it says on Caller ID. Do not act immediately. Break the contact and take a 10-minute breather. Get some water. Scammers often push “secrecy,” so talk to someone you’re sure is likely to remain calm. Think about your options to independently verify any alarming message. Google is a great scam-confirmation tool. Your local police and your bank are also resources for you in a moment like this. Call them on phone numbers you personally get from their official web sites.

Find out what you’re really dealing with and then your next steps will become clear – especially if it’s a scam. If your “prior preparation” saves you from falling for a scam, spread the word. Tell others what happened and help them learn how to prepare to save themselves too.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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