Mark Harvey: Asking for a little advice can go a long way

  • Sat Sep 24th, 2016 6:30am
  • Life

Allow me to begin by sharing something that almost all of us share: Few of us want to look like idiots. Well, OK, granted, I do take a shot at it every week, but the fact is that very few of us want to look stupid.

And it is exactly that very human foible that allows a lot of scams and con games to succeed, but let’s begin with a current example of the bad guys being bad.

A lot of us are receiving phone messages these days that instruct us to call (855) 955-9799 — that’s the number that I’ve see, but there may be others — regarding software that has been installed on our computers and the “software company” has indications that our computers have been breached.

Appalled, if not openly freaked-out, we dutifully call said number, where helpful person solicits the necessary personal information to access our computers so they can fix the breach. Info in hand, they access our computers and installan evil, infectious virus on our computers that we then have to pay to have them get rid of!

Oops! Ouch!

Now, the truth is that most of us are pretty convinced that cyberspace is a magical, mysterious realm in which unfathomable occurrences occur on a regular basis, so we leapt to the only apparent lifeline. What if we had just consulted someone else — preferably, a “techie” or someone who seems to know more about this than we do or any random, readily available adolescent — before we shot ourselves in the pocketbook?

Here’s another: Most of us are at least vaguely aware that we’re teetering on the brink of open enrollment for Medicare Part D. This annual event tends to bring out a lot of sales pitches and materials, not to mention bad guys who will gladly help you through it (for a price or “all I need is a little information”) and boom!

What would have happened if we’d just asked someone else’s opinion? That someone doesn’t necessarily have to be a health insurance wonk, just someone whose opinion we trust to ask, “Does this make any sense to you?”

Or the mountain of crap that we all get in the mail. Often, seemingly, Medicare-related, with all manner of official-looking seals and logos and names. Usually, selling something or offering to snatch us from the jaws of insurance-related catastrophe, if we just call. A scam? Not usually. Deceptive advertising? Often.

So, we figure that out and fight back by shredding or recycling everything that even looks like that! Take that! Except, we just shredded something that really was from Medicare or our Part D plan or our MediGap plan or — oops.

How do you know? Well, unless you look at a lot of stuff like that on a regular basis, you may not. So, what if you just asked a friend or a neighbor or a family member or, “Hey, what do you think about this?”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Hey, just asking somebody else is no guarantee that they’ll know any more than I do.” True. But, often, two heads are better than one, particularly if that other head isn’t feeling nervous about whatever it is. No guarantees, but you’re certainly improving your odds.

We don’t want to look like idiots. We want to look competent, independent and capable, so we rattle whatever it is around in our heads until we no longer know if we’re coming or going, or until we’ve totally scared ourselves, then we do something. And, often, that something can be wrong.

I know some extremely intelligent people. I also know that some of them have been scammed. I also know that some of those extremely intelligent people routinely ask for advice when they’re out of their tree.

It doesn’t have to be health insurance and it doesn’t have to be computers. It could be roof repairs or giveaways or free samples or sweepstakes or free cruises or a chance (Act TODAY!) to purchase Massachusetts for a song. It looks good, it sounds good. What an opportunity!

You bet it is, for the folks on the receiving end.

Just ask somebody’s opinion. You’re not required to take it or act upon it, but you could, at least, consider it: Does this really make any sense?

I used the term, con game. The “con” is taken from the word confidence. Iin other words, the bad guy (gal?) wins your confidence by being friendly and caring and solicitous. Maybe, they even know a little bit about you, which is readily available on the internet — welcome to 2016 — so they’re pleasant, funny, engaging. They win your confidence, so you end up doing whatever it is. Now consider this: Would you expect someone, who is trying to talk you out of your money or personal info, to be rude, gruff, nasty or insulting?

Neither would I. But they might threaten, as in some horrible thing that will inevitably happen, if I don’t do/send/provide or agree to whatever it is they are selling. Well, at this age, I think I’ll just ask some friends for some advice and take my chances.

And I won’t lie awake tonight worrying about a meteor shower, either.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information &Assistance.