Editorial: Hard work staying afloat in a sea of fraud

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Not too long ago, one of our newspaper employees received what looked like an urgent email from the company publisher. He needed some prepaid gift cards, totaling hundreds of dollars, and needed them quick.

The employee went across the street and bought the prepaid cards, eager to help out the boss.

Luckily, that’s as far as things went. The email had been a sham, faked by a computer-savvy scammer.

By now, we’re all aware of the scam in which a supposed Nigerian prince is quite eager to share his great wealth with you, if only you’d give him a down payment, or at least your bank account number and a few personal details.

But those easy-to-spot scams are old news. Nowadays, there are countless newer and more complex con jobs out there, looking to snag even the smartest of us. Email scams look more and more legit, just asking us to click one innocuous link. Sneaky hidden devices are attached to neighborhood ATMs and gas pumps, attempting to skim credit card information.

Fraudsters can be downright brazen. Recently, Jefferson County investigators found that scammers were making it look as if their calls were originating from the sheriff’s department, and used names of real deputies to try to appear legitimate.

The scary truth is that scammers don’t even have to trick you directly any more.

On Jan. 4, thieves broke into a storage facility and stole personal information of more than 500 people, including addresses, dates of birth and medication lists from the CVS pharmacy inside Target at 5071 Kipling in Wheat Ridge. That data breach, of course, is dwarfed by the constant stream of data-hacking scandals we hear about constantly. Recently, news broke that your Facebook password is likely compromised. Go change it now, if you haven’t.

Automation also has created much more scamming.

Unfortunately for us, Colorado seems to be a popular hunting ground for the current crop of crooks. The state ranks second, just slightly behind Nevada, in terms of total complaints about fraudulent robocalls, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In fact, Colorado’s attorney general recently identified spam and fraud calls as the number one source of consumer complaint in 2018.

This being tax season, the number of fraud calls we’re all receiving is only going to be increasing.

For the record, the IRS:

• Will not call you demanding immediate payment of taxes.

• Will not ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

• Will not threaten police arrest or lawsuits over the phone.

The IRS says if you suspect the call is a scam, hang up immediately without giving any information and call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.

Here are some other tips that may help you avoid scams, according to authorities.

• Be alert to fraudsters. They often initiate contact, posing as part of a trusted organization. They often demand urgency and ask for money or personal information up front.

• Don’t hand out money or personal information.

• Hang up/delete. If you have any doubt about a call or email, ignore it. Hang up on all robocalls immediately. Never click on a link or open an attachment from an email from a sender you don’t trust. Delete any email that looks even the least bit suspicious.

• Use a credit card when it’s an option. Whether at the pump, or making an online purchase, credit card companies offer anti-fraud protection that a check, money order or a debit card does not.

You can find more tips to stay safe at www.arapahoegov.com/925/Crime-Prevention and www.dcsheriff.net/community/crime-prevention/frauds-scams-and-cons/

It looks doubtful that the sheer amount of fraud out there is going away any time soon. And so all of us should do what we can to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and fraud free.

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