Robin Putnam, a research and special projects manager from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR), attended the Tuesday, October 15 Council on Aging (COA) meeting to speak to residents regarding identity theft and fraud prevention. Despite a newsletter and robocalls the turnout for this COA event was quite small.
Putnam gave everyone in attendance a copy of A Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Identify Theft pamphlet. She pointed out the Consumer Hotline (617-973-8787) which is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and stressed that an actual person will be available to talk during those times. Additionally, she assured residents that if you leave a message, someone will call you back within 24 hours.
Putnam also explained to attendees that OCABR has over 39,000 contractors registered with them and explained that before hiring someone to do over $1,000 worth of work on your home, you should verify that they are registered. You can check registration either online or over the phone. Just as OCABR will defend consumers against contractor negligence, they will also defend the contractors when necessary.
One of the most pertinent frauds discussed was the process of spoof calling where a caller changes their caller ID to any number other than the calling number. Despite it feeling as though you are being targeted, you are not as it is usually a computer system somewhere churning out phone calls. Of note, Putnam warned that it is important not to answer as even answering and immediately hanging up demonstrates that your number has an actual living person attached to it.
A new FCC program known as SHAKEN/STIR seeks to verify the caller ID information that appears on a recipient’s phone. Thus far the program seems to be working as there was a down tick in robocalls for the month of July.
Also discussed was what is known as social engineering or the act of trying to manipulate individuals into divulging personal or confidential information. For example, if they know your bank they’ll call pretending to be from that bank and they will ask you to verify personal information that they’ve gathered about you from various sources. Once they’ve earned your trust, they will ask you to verify your social security number. Another scam involves the caller claiming that your spouse is in the hospital or your grandchild in jail. The caller will then ask you for a credit card payment.
Putnam warned against engaging the scammer with fake answers in an attempt to scam the scammer. She warned of a real-life example where a scammer realized what was happening and then proceeded to call the recipient’s number every hour for a full 24 hours.
Phishing emails were another topic of discussion. Putnam advised on ways to decipher an authentic email from a fraudulent one. If an email looks suspicious it can be helpful to hover your mouse over the email sender in order to view the address in its entirety. Subtle differences such as the way an email addresses its recipient can be useful. She gave a personal example of an authentic email from her bank referring to her as Ms. Putnam vs. a fraudulent one pretending to be from that same bank and referring to her as “loyal customer.” When in question, it is advised that you find an old statement and call the 800-number given; never call the 800-number given in the potentially fraudulent email.
Putnam also provided a number of suggestions for protecting oneself against such scams. She stressed the importance of changing passwords every 6-9 weeks. The actual passwords themselves should not be recycled and should be something arbitrary rather than personal. She also suggested doing a credit check and verifying that all information on the report is actually yours. People under 18 years of age are more susceptible to identity theft as fraudsters know that guardians are unlikely to pull credit reports for someone say, three years old.
Putnam also addressed the Equifax Data Breach which affected 147 million people. If you are unsure if you were affected, it is best to go to ftc.gov/Equifax to check.