SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I received a phone call that left me shaken and bewildered. The voice on the other end claimed to be from the Social Security Administration. The caller informed me that my Social Security number had been compromised in a significant security breach. My heart raced as I contemplated the potential consequences, even as the urgency in the caller’s voice gave me little time to think.
The caller asked for my personal information,
“YOUR CHECKING ACCOUNT balance is low.” It’s an alert none of us wants to receive, especially if we’ve just been paid. But that was the message that a friend—let’s call him Ron—got recently. A hacker had gained control of his account and started bleeding it dry.
Ron, it turns out, was lucky to have received that alert. Another friend—let’s call him Arthur—received no such alert when his account was also taken over by hackers this summer.
MY WALLET WAS STOLEN many years ago when I was traveling on business. I had gotten onto a crowded elevator at my hotel. The last person to get on was a woman who pretended to get her heel caught in the elevator door.
The thieves were a young couple—and they were real pros. While we were focused on her, her partner proceeded to open the flap of my handbag and help himself to my wallet.
ON FEB. 7, 1910, AN ODD event occurred in the English town of Weymouth. A group of five arrived for a tour of HMS Dreadnought, a battleship that was the pride of Britain’s navy. The five were welcomed with fanfare, their staff having communicated in advance that they were members of the Abyssinian royal family. Their appearance was impressive: flowing robes, great jewels and turbans. Through an interpreter, the Abyssinian emperor offered military honors to the ship’s crew.
A QUARTER OF ALL reported losses from fraud in 2021 originated on social media, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and those losses cost about $770 million.
Yes, social media is a popular way to keep in touch with family and friends, receive news and get information. According to Pew Research, 73% of people ages 50 to 64 used social media in 2021, as did 45% of those ages 65 and over. But using social media requires vigilance.
ON JUNE 15, THE NEWS was broken by The Oregonian of a massive hack at Oregon’s Department of Motor Vehicles, apparently leading to the theft of sensitive details about most of Oregon’s 3.5 million holders of a driver’s license or ID card. Incidents like this, along with the huge 2017 Equifax hack, give criminals cheap and easy access to key personal information that many organizations routinely use to verify our identities and screen our credit applications.
FINANCIAL FRAUD against Americans age 60 and older costs $3 billion a year, and the average loss per incident is $120,000, according to a 2020 study by the AARP Public Policy Institute. And scams against older Americans are increasing. The FBI reports that losses more than doubled from 2019 to 2021 and internet swindles against elderly victims rose 84% in 2022.
My wife was the target of a fraud and you may have been,
MORE THAN 92,000 people over age 60 reported losses to fraud totaling $1.7 billion in 2021, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. That represented a 74% increase in losses from the year before.
With the population of older Americans growing, the need to protect this vulnerable population is more critical than ever. Enter the concept of a trusted contact.
The trusted contact has its origin in a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rule issued in March 2020.
IT ALL STARTED WITH a purchase alert. With so much account hacking, we have alerts on our phones for every new purchase, so we can immediately respond if there’s an unauthorized transaction. What we didn’t know was that disputing charges can be so Kafkaesque.
My wife Jiab asked if I had just purchased anything online from Walmart. I had not. There were two suspect charges, each for about $50, simultaneously charged to our Chase and Capital One credit cards.
OUR COMMUNITY HAS a Facebook-like online forum called Nextdoor. I tend to ignore the posts, which usually involve things like items for sale and new restaurant openings. But a recent post caught my eye—because it was from the Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds.
The article said Pennsylvania’s Attorney General had initiated a lawsuit against a realty company for deceptive practices targeting elderly, low-income and minority homeowners. The realty company was offering a “Homeowner Benefit Program” that gives homeowners anywhere from $400 to $1,000 upfront to lock into a contract.
I’VE BEEN AWAY FROM the HumbleDollar community for a while. Jiab and I are working on a new book about media literacy, examining the effects of social media influencers on youth consumerism. It will teach kids about responsible web use and how to avoid the traps of the online world.
I’ve learned a lot myself, including lessons that apply both online and IRL, short for “in real life.” As part of our research,
WHEN I WORKED FOR a personal finance magazine in the mid-1990s, I wrote a story about conmen who met their marks in internet chat rooms devoted to stock investing. One of the slickest tricksters went by the name of Josef von Habsburg. He told people he was descended from Austrian royalty.
In researching the story, I called the police in von Habsburg’s hometown of Birmingham, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. The local police knew him as Josef Meyers and said he was about as royal as you or me.
WHERE WOULD WE BE without the internet, social media, and our smartphones and smartwatches? Can you remember a time when you couldn’t look up the answer to a trivia question at a cocktail party? I love answering the phone on my watch. It takes me back to Dick Tracy.
There I was, going along happily in my online universe—until I got an email from McAfee’s identity theft protection service alerting me that my phone number had been found on the dark web.
GOOD PARENTS WARN their children about predators who look to take advantage of them. By the same token, good adults should warn and safeguard their elderly parents, as well as the other seniors they care for.
We all use our electronics for accessing information. We sometimes forget the information highway is two-way, and nefarious people use those lines of communication to get to the vulnerable. And it isn’t just about hacking online accounts. Often,
WE’VE ALL HEARD of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, which compile our all-important credit reports. But have you heard of ChexSystems?
ChexSystems generates reports on bank customers, typically using banking history from the past five years to assess the risk that customers pose to their banks. Those risks are reflected in blemishes on a consumer’s banking history, such as overdrafts and unpaid fees. In some instances, ChexSystems warns banks about potential fraud.