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Feature: Exploring Various Scams and What to Do if You’re a Victim of One

By Jess Szabo | Arts Writer 

Avoiding scams is important, but there are times when it is too late. Everyone has moments where we let our guard down. It was an especially hectic day at work, you were taking a break, and thought it might be fun to sign up for what looked like a free gift or offer. Or maybe things were not going well in your personal life, and in the moment of distraction, the offer looked like a nice boost you could really use. Perhaps your heart was in the right place. The scammer presented himself or herself as a person in need, and you thought it would be better to err on the side of kindness, figuring it would be better to lose a few items or a few dollars than to allow someone to suffer. 

But two minutes, or two weeks, or two months later, you realize the situation was a scam. Now somebody you don’t know and know nothing about other than they’re running a scam, has your personal information. What do you do now? 

The scammer has your debit card, credit card, or other bank information. 

The first step in fighting the scammer who has your credit or debit cards or other bank information is to call the bank and/or credit card company immediately. Report the card lost or stolen. This will prevent any charges the scammer has recently made on the card from going through. It will also stop them from making any further charges to the card or account. 

Many people hesitate to take this step. They feel like they shouldn’t waste the credit card or bank employee’s time when no fraudulent charges, or only small charges, have been made. Reporting a card lost or stolen also causes problems for the rightful owner, as it often forces you to wait several days until the bank or company issues you a new card and you can use your account again. 

This is precisely the reaction the scammers are hoping you will have. Don’t worry about bothering employees over a small amount. That small amount is a test. If you don’t close the account, larger charges will be made. Being unable to access your own account for a time may cause problems, but it will cause far fewer problems than allowing a scammer to continue to have access to it. 

You shared your full name and address with the scammer. 

Scammers cannot steal your identity with your name and address alone. But they can use your stolen name and address as part of a scam. 

One of the primary reasons scammers want your name and address is to file a change of address form. To the person processing the form, it looks like you either moved or are going to be on an extended vacation and need your mail sent someplace else. In reality, the scammer has rerouted your mail so that it is sent to them. The scammer will now receive paper copies of your credit card bills, bank statements, household bills, and other documents they can use to take out credit cards in your name. 

Your first instinct might be to call your local post office, but they will not be able to do much there beyond telling you whether or not a change of address form has been filed. Employees at your local post office cannot tell you where your mail is now being sent or offer any insight as to who might have submitted the form. 

Carefully monitor your mail, credit card statements, bank statements, and other financial information. If you notice that you are receiving less postal mail than usual, you receive a change of address verification form in the mail, or you notice changes to the address on any of your financial statements, don’t chalk it up to companies going green, a mistake at the post office, or a misprint. 

Call the United States Postal Inspection Service or visit their official website. The phone number is 1-877-876-2455. If you are more comfortable filing your report online, visit https://www.uspis.gov/report and select “Identity Theft” from the menu on the screen. 

Responding to a plea for help in a social media group, you bought baby supplies, school supplies, work clothes, or other items for someone in your hometown. Today you see those same items listed for sale in a classified group. 

This is known as a “heartstrings” scam. They’re especially easy for scammers to pull off, because targets do not want to risk the possibility that the situation is real, and they’re allowing someone else to suffer. Sadly, it is one type of scam that is impossible to fight once you’ve been a victim. You gave the person the items, and those items were then their property to do with whatever they wished. 

This does not mean this type of behavior is okay, and you should just let it continue. You may not be able to get the items you purchased back or the money you spent on them, but you can help stop this from happening to other people. Report the incident to the administrator or moderator of the group where you first encountered the fraudulent post. They can then block the account, reducing the scammer’s access to the group members. 

Regardless of the type of scam that successfully targeted you, avoid panicking, and avoid beating yourself up. Everyone gets overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, bored, and/or distracted, and everyone is more vulnerable to scams at these times. Your best path forward is to calmly take the necessary steps to disentangle yourself from the scammer. 

Mark Ziobro
Mark Ziobrohttps://uticaphoenixnet.wpcomstaging.com
Mark is the current Managing Editor for The Utica Phoenix, and a Central New York Native.

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