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Spotting and Stopping Scams


We strive to live in a world of kindness and fairness, yet there sadly are some crooks who seek to take advantage of good people. This is true of scammers and it’s up to the good folks to be wise to them. There’s an adage that comes to mind when dealing with unscrupulous people, “The best defense is a good offense.” Though widely used by sports coaches and players, the phrase is attributed to the father of our country, George Washington. In 1799, he said, “…offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only means of defense.” Going on offense can work to ward off scammers. But, how so?

Understanding how scammers operate is key to stopping them. Among the important goals of the Food and Drug Administration, FDA,  is to protect consumers from health fraud scams and dangerous products on the market. They state, “The snake-oil salesmen of old have morphed into the deceptive, high-tech marketers of today, preying on people’s desires for easy solutions to difficult health problems…” The FDA explains that health care scams include the sale of ineffective products that claim to prevent, treat, or cure diseases or other health conditions. Health fraud scams are serious. Not only can they create financial hardships, but they can cause serious delays in getting proper diagnosis and treatment – which can lead to serious injuries or fatalities. The FDA cautions folks to watch for catch phrases like “miracle cure” or “vaccine alternative” that make false claims. Health care scammers reach out in different ways, often choosing social media websites and closed media apps to “conduct business.” Note that many of their products come from overseas and circumnavigate normal Customs and FDA inspections or other safety regulations and thus may be dangerous for consumers.

In the USA, gift card scams affected nearly 40,000 people who reported $148 million stolen using gift cards during the first nine months of 2021. This number is likely a lot higher as it solely reflects those who reported it. Scammers like gift cards because they are easy for people to buy at the store and there are few protections for people who buy the cards. The goal of scammers is to get quick cash without being caught. Per the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, tasked with protecting America’s consumers, the most common way people get scammed is by phone from someone who impersonates a well-known business or government authority such as Amazon or Apple, or the Social Security Administration. Often, people are told to buy Target, Google Play, Apple, or other gift cards as part of an elaborate fake scenario. This may include convincing people that they are entered in a sweepstake or lottery, or the scammer may pretend to be a love interest or family member in trouble. In some cases, the scammer may threaten bodily harm. The scammer then tricks individuals into giving the number on the back of the card. It’s important for the public to never engage with callers asking for or demanding the purchase of gift cards, no matter how convincing they may be.

George Washington understood the importance of acting in the name of defense. Today, this military practice can be applied to dealing with scammers. It’s important for people and businesses to go on the offense – to watch and report any strange activity and to not engage with scammers. Individuals can visit the FTC to gain consumer advice or report gift card and other consumer scams to the FTC. Retailers can also do their part in protecting their customers by sharing warnings. Consumers can regularly visit the FDA website to remain informed on food and drug product scams and safety. As always, physical threats, forgeries, and financial or identity thefts should be reported to your local police department. Additionally, folks should keep tabs on the elderly, particularly those who live alone, who may easily be targeted by scammers. Working together, we can make a difference to spot and stop scammers.

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