Smart About Money: Easy ways to help scam-proof yourself

Nick Maffeo It was another tragic story about a local person who was talked into letting a hacker log onto their computer. They believed the hacker who said $75,000 had “accidentally” been credited into their bank account. The victim wanted to help this stranger who was pressuring them and asking them to please send the overpayment back “right away” so the stranger would not “get in trouble.”

Everyone who hears this story in the cold light of day knows it was a scam. But this person believed the scammer and wanted to do the right thing. The victim’s honesty and desire to help were used against them. It happens all the time.

People are getting better at protecting themselves. I recently spoke to a woman who received an email about unexpected rewards points posted to her American Express account. Since she didn’t use that American Express account anymore, she was immediately suspicious and wondered if it was some kind of identity theft.

She called American Express on a number from an old statement. They said she was fine. She spoke to the Canton Police who told her it seemed like she was okay but not to click any email links and let them know if anything else occurred. She then spoke to her son who was able to confirm that he’d recently made a purchase on the American Express account which they’d once shared. Mystery solved.

This woman told me she and her friends often talk about recognizing potential scams. She knew it was okay to be suspicious. Exactly! When dealing with a possible scam situation, being suspicious is good.

Scammers have so many different initial approaches but – if they get hold of someone – every scam quickly moves to the same next step which is making you feel uncomfortable, alarmed and/or confused so you’ll make bad decisions in a panic.

So that’s something to watch for and one easy, free way you can help scam-proof yourself. If you feel uncomfortable, alarmed or confused, break contact with the individual causing those feelings and turn to trusted sources to figure out what’s really going on. If it’s a genuine problem or an honest mistake, there’s always plenty of time to deal with that.

The other easy, free way to help scam-proof yourself is to decide you will never ever withdraw money to send to someone who is basically a stranger. If they want gift cards, cashier’s checks, wire transfers, bitcoin or anything like that, that’s obviously a bad sign. Lying to a bank teller about why you’re making a substantial withdrawal is also a bad sign because – unlike the scammer – the teller is trying to help you.

Scamming is a lucrative organized crime that’s probably never going away. Talk to older and younger family members and friends about steps they can take to help scam-proof themselves. Make it something you’re all aware of so you’re not taken by surprise or tricked into revealing important personal or financial information when “something weird” happens. Expecting scams and having a plan to defuse these threats is your best and only defense.

One more Financial Fitness thing you can do to help protect yourself. It’s also easy and free. Freeze your credit reports with the three credit reporting bureaus. Freezing only takes a few minutes. Unfreezing is quickly done. And freezing your credit reports makes it much more unlikely that identity thieves will be able to open new accounts in your name.

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

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