Smart People Get Scammed: How to Be a Hard Target

The strongest defense against being scammed is to stop and talk to someone else.
May 21, 2015 Updated: May 21, 2015

Before I talked about scams to the wise people at the Federal Trade Commission, I was ready to think your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free were the ones who got scammed.

I was going to write something protective of my humble brothers and sisters, the ones not walking around armed with graduate degrees and high English proficiency to fend off bad guys. I was wrong. Scams are calibrated to work your emotions, to push your buttons, and con artists are pros. They get the wily and wealthy and the poor and naïve and everyone in between.

“This is an everyday reality that drains money from the most vulnerable, but really from all of us,” said Sona Chriss. She is an Atlanta-based attorney for the FTC. “The most likely way people avoid being scammed is when they talk to people outside themselves. We can literally lose our shirts.”

She described two big cases in Florida in which scammers called wealthy retirees to offer a chance to invest in precious metals. “Silver’s about to go up!” They tricked victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Florida is the top state for consumer fraud, and Georgia comes in second. Americans lose more than $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud, according to U.S. Postal Inspectors.

 “This is heartfelt for me,” said Cindy Liebes, regional director of the Southeast office of the FTC. She was at her father’s house when he got a call saying he owed a debt, and would be arrested if he did not pay it right away. He has dementia. Liebes took the phone. “I said, ‘he will not go to jail.'” The fraudster told her she would go to jail for not “cooperating.” Her father was anxious and protective of her. He was tempted to pay up to keep his daughter from being arrested.

“I want your readers to complain,” said Liebes. Anyone who gets the iffy call, the fishing email, the strange add-ons in the used car contract, should tell the police, or the FTC, or the Better Business Bureau, or the state attorney general. “It’s those complaints that let us bring law enforcement cases,” said Liebes.

Never wire money. Never send a prepaid card. Stop and talk to somebody.
— Jennifer Leach, Federal Trade Commission

 The agencies share information, they investigate, and they get settlements. They do not care about anyone’s immigration status. Sometimes they can reclaim lost money. When they do, they return it to victims.

 The most common fraud is identity theft, according to Liebes. The next most common is phony debt collectors, like the one who targeted her father. If people can pass on “what are the frauds, how to avoid them, and what to do if you have been victimized,” it will help, she said.

Jennifer Leach is assistant director of the FTC Division of Consumer and Business Education. She said, “Never wire money. Never send a prepaid card. Stop and talk to somebody.”

 New America Media sponsored the FTC and other experts’ visit to the Latin American Association in Atlanta on May 20.

 Mary Silver lives and works in Atlanta.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.