Any time there is any type of disaster — from weather-related events to economic downturns to health crises — unscrupulous jerks come out of the woodwork.
Yes, while plenty of legitimate businesses, social service agencies and others work hard to be problem solvers during disasters, there are always some people who selfishly use their energy and creativity to prey on already hurting people.
Like hyenas drawn to the sounds of a dying animal, scammers keep their ears and eyes open for vulnerable prey. We don’t want that to be you.
Coronavirus a gift to scammers
When it comes to the coronavirus, the scammers have come out in full force in a variety of ways peddling everything from false cures to fake loan products.
Julie Galligan, our housing counselor here at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor, said she’s begun to hear rumblings of scams about ways of avoiding foreclosure or helping to pay back rent owed once the rent moratorium is lifted, which is now scheduled for June 30.
“There’s always going to be someone who jumps in to make money in these situations,” Julie said.
Health and emotional issues due to coronavirus, added to financial and housing issues and the uncertainty of these times makes people especially vulnerable to scams!
Next week we will talk to Julie more specifically about rent and foreclosure scams. Today we want to remind you of some overall signs that something is a scam.
The Federal Trade Commission has some succinct information on how to avoid scams. In addition, the commission lists some of the current scams to watch out for on their website at .
The following information, comes from their brochure, “How to Avoid a Scam.”
This brochure lists four signs that something is a scam:
■ Scammers pretend to be from an organization you know.
■ Scammers say there is a problem or a prize.
■ Scammers pressure you to act immediately.
■ Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way.
Often scammers will pretend to be from a familiar organization such as the IRS, Medicare or Social Security. (Who hasn’t gotten a fake call from Microsoft or Visa?) Alternatively, they will make up a name that is very close to an official name – especially for charities.
Nowadays with the leaps in technology, people have the ability to create professional looking ads on the internet, and printed flyers from their home computers. Also, it’s also easy for scammers to manipulate the phone system so that the number that appears on your caller ID is not really the person calling you.
The FTC lists the second sign of a scam as that someone reaches out to you saying there’s a problem or promising a prize.
Maybe you’ve got a call that the IRS says you owe money, your grandson is in jail and needs money to get out, or perhaps your credit card has had a large purchase or your computer has a virus on it.
Maybe they say you have a problem with a bill or a bank and ask you to “verify” information. Then, skillfully during that process, the scammer actually tricks you into giving them information.
Often others will say you’ve won money in some sort of contest, lottery or sweepstakes, but you need to pay a fee to get it.
Think about it! If someone is giving you money, for starters you’d remember that you entered the contest. Secondly if they can part with a computer, a week in Hawaii or the $50,000 cash, they can deal with the handling and shipping fees! Why would you ever have to pay a fee to get a prize!?
While sometimes a legitimate salesperson will pressure you to make a decision to close the deal, typically you will have time to think it over, call a friend, etc.
But scammers put pressure on you to act immediately because they don’t want you to talk it over with someone or give you time to check them out with a friend or online. They want that credit card information, social security number or bank identification numbers now so they can quickly get to work before the alarm bells start going off in your head!
One particularly nasty approach is that they might even threaten to arrest you, deport you, take away your driver’s license, etc. Now that’s really playing dirty!
The fourth sign of a scam listed by the Federal Trade Commission’s information is that scammers often tell you to pay in a specific way.
“They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back,” the brochure says.
Another classic way is that they will send you a big check for you to deposit and then you ask you to send them money. The trick is that their check will turn out to be a fake and the method they instructed you to send them money will have worked and you will be out your money.
We have more on ways to recognize and avoid scams in next week’s column.
In addition, we will talk with Housing Counselor Julie Galligan on ways of handling being behind in rent payments or mortgage payments.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about the ductless heat pump program or home repair, housing counseling for renters and landlords, homebuyer education and buying, call 360-533-7828, listen to the extension picks that will best help you and leave a callback name and number. Due to Covid-19, our office is not currently open for a visit, but we will call you back.