Getting Answers: how to avoid being a victim to financials scams

Western Mass News is getting answers on how you can best protect yourself and work to prevent falling victim.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 4:50 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 9, 2023 at 6:45 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Financial scams have been around for years, but now, scammers are becoming more savvy, taking more time to develop different ways to steal your money.

Western Mass News is getting answers on how you can best protect yourself and work to prevent falling victim.

“I thought, ‘Why would he say that?’ then I thought, ‘Oh sh*t, oh no,’ and that’s when I knew I’d been hacked,” one Belchertown woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told us.

Scammers are everywhere – from spam calls to wire fraud to social security scams to phishing emails – like the one this Belchertown woman received in March of last year telling her she had been charged for computer software she had not purchased.

“So I called the number on the form, and I asked for a refund, simply enough. The person I spoke with told me that I would get my money back into my account,” she said. “He convinced me that he had put $12,000 into my bank account by mistake, his mistake. He had not.”

She felt bad for the man, “Victor,” who said he could lose his job over the mistake. So, she went to a bank in Granby to return the extra money.

“I agreed to take the first $6,000 from my account and put it into an account that he had gave me the name and address and number for,” the woman recalled. “The second day, as I was putting the money there, he called me. I was in the car. He called me and told me to be sure to destroy the deposit slips.”

That was when she realized that she had been scammed and called Belchertown Police, the senior center, and her bank for help. However, it was too late and the money was gone.

She is not alone. As more people become educated on what to look out for, scammers are only becoming more clever.

“The sophistication has increased a lot,” Franklin First Credit Union President and CEO Michelle Dwyer said.

She told Western Mass News that she has seen an increase in people falling victim to employment scams, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Employment scams where people go onto employment websites and try to find a job, get a job, and the employer will send them money telling them to buy equipment to complete this job,” Dwyer said.

Then, the person is told they will be reimbursed, but that reimbursement check turns out to be fraudulent along with the company and the job.

Dwyer told us that another one that has been popping up more frequently is relationship scams, where scammers wait weeks to months before asking for money to build up trust.

“Those are really hard for people because they don’t want to admit that these relationships might not be real,” Dwyer said. “But, there is a lot of relationship building that happens prior to asking for money first.”

The Northwestern District Attorney’s office is seeing an increase in a wide variety of scams and they want to remind people to think before you act, especially when it comes to your money.

“If you get an unexpected call or an unexpected email or text message, slow down,” said Anita Wilson, Director of Consumer Protection Unit at Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. “Don’t be so quick to respond because you aren’t giving yourself the time to critically analyze the situation.”

These scammers are not discriminating when it comes to who they target. Oftentimes, elders come to mind first because they have more money easily accessible, but Dwyer told Western Mass News that the primary targets are those 28 to 42 years old.

“It doesn’t mean anything as far as whether you’re smart or you’re savvy,” she said. “It can happen to anyone. We have seen it happen to people of all walks of life, whether it be a young person to an old person. Any economic status, any education background.”

The Northwestern DA’s office knows how difficult it can be to find and prosecute the scammers. They are working to change the conversation around the embarrassment people face when they are tricked, encouraging people to reach out to a trusted family member or friend if something feels off.

“The conversation should be framed with, ‘Can you believe how realistic these scams are getting?’” said Rachel Senecal, Coordinator of Elder and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Unit at Northwestern DA’s office. “There is a lot of shame associated with being victimized by a scam, and that is in part because, when we have conversations about scams, we hear people start the conversation with, ‘Can you believe the ignorance of this person? How could they fall for something that is so obviously a scam?’ But, that’s setting the stage for more people to stay quiet about what they are experiencing because they don’t want to be judged.”

The DA’s office encourages people to report any and all scams to their banks, local police departments, and the Federal Trade Commission. They also offer educational programs on identity theft and the red flags to look out for when it comes to scams.