Jay Lenkersdorfer

The Forrest Gump movie is littered with great one liners that offer snippets of wisdom. One of my favorites is “Stupid is as stupid does”. The simple message is one that I interpret this way – you’re only stupid if you act stupid.

Another slice of wisdom is used when talking about the effectiveness of working together as a team. “None of us is as smart as all of us”.

Sadly, the opposite is also true. “None of us is as dumb as all of us”. The wisdom is simple – stick together and things will always be better than if we were to go at it all by ourselves.

Last week a gentleman I’ll call Roger came into my office and asked for some advice. Roger had unwittingly stumbled into the same car wrapping scam that I had encountered  six weeks ago. Thankfully, Roger spoke to his brother about the ‘opportunity’ before sending in money.  Fortunately, Roger’s brother had read the story I wrote in the Weekly Mailer about the scam. His advice was to stay away from it altogether. Wanting more closure, Roger came to my office to see what his next step should be. Together we thought it best to block the number off his phone and toss the fake checks. After all, Roger had been skeptical enough to ask others about it before he had $2,000 ripped from his bank account.

The information age we are living in is loaded with opportunities to get ahead, but it also gives crooks the same tools to cheat good people out of their hard-earned money.

The peril in many of these scams is that people want them to be true in the worst way. Times are tough and seeing an opportunity to get out from under debt from the holidays always seems to draw people in. Those who might step into this modern age mouse trap are not stupid, they are just open to opportunities. Thankfully, there are some simple rules we can follow that will draw us closer to true opportunities and away from scams that have the potential to ruin us.

The bait the crooks use is varied depending on who they are trying to scam. When our oldest daughter graduated from high school she was full of joy because she was leaving the kid world behind and was entering the age of being a responsible adult. One evening I heard her talking on the phone and the answers she was giving made me extremely uncomfortable. What is your dog’s name, who is your best friend, what is your favorite number were all questions she was answering. Not knowing who was on the other end of the phone I motioned for her to hang up, but she resisted.

Wanting the call to end I simply took the phone out of her hand and hung up. As you might imagine, she was not happy with me. Sensing a good teaching opportunity, I sat her down and explained why I had forced her to end the call. In her mind she had not told the person anything he could use against her, but in this she was very wrong. People are very predictable about creating passwords. They use familiar things like a pet’s name, a favorite number or even friends’ names to create passwords they will remember. Unfortunately, crooks know this, and they pull out all the stops to get us to tell them something they can use to invade our privacy, gain access to our bank accounts, or even take out loans in our names. Once a person discovers this has happened to them the crooks are long gone and guess who gets left with the damage? Yes, you get to sort this out.

There are a few simple but absolute rules to keep you from being scammed. First, never give out personal information over the phone, via the computer or in person to someone you don’t know. Never reply to a phone call or email from someone who says you will be arrested if you don’t pay them money right now. Never buy gift cards only to give the numbers on the back of these cards to the person asking you to do so. It’s the fastest way to cheat you out of your money and it is not traceable. Never send payment to a person claiming to be your grandchild that is in trouble in a distant land because it is always a scam. These crooks play on your emotions, they want you to feel pain and hopelessness as if your grandchild is really in trouble. They might even give you lots of personal information about that grandchild to get you to believe that they are really in trouble, but they aren’t. Chances are that your grandchild was foolish in how much information they put on their Facebook page and crooks used it to get to you.

Scammers will yell at you, swear at you, and they’ll do just about anything to make you feel like your only option is to send the money. Don’t do it. If they yell, swear, or threaten you, just hang up. There is great power in ignoring their attempts to intimidate you.

In the end, get others involved. Call your child, a parent, your pastor, a trusted neighbor or even the police. Don’t fall for the ‘do it now or else’ pitch they will use on you. For once in your life, be rude back. You will be surprised by how much power that gives you.

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