By Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW
A frequent question I get is “How do those people calling me get my information?” In today’s world of fast moving technology, it is not that difficult to get information like phone numbers and addresses of people of specific groups a company wants to target. But we also put ourselves on lists when we fall for some of the techniques people use to develop lists to sell.
If you can begin to understand how your information is gathered, you might be able to outsmart these folks and therefore protect yourself from being a target. Here are some examples of how unscrupulous people find you.
• Robocalls – the message can vary from “consolidate your credit” to “offers for a free medical alert,” but what they have in common is they ask you to push 1 for more information OR push 2 to be taken off their list. If you push either number, the only thing you are doing is confirming this is a good working phone number and there is someone on the other end who listens and follows directions.
• Emails – Some emails offer you promises of billions of dollars, or maybe the email purportedly comes from the FBI or Homeland Security threatening you with jail if you don’t respond. What is the real purpose of these types of emails? They want you to respond so they can create a list of good email addresses which will then be sold so you get all kinds of useless information or offers.
• Sweepstakes offers – This technique is one that targets people who are most likely to be vulnerable to wiring thousands of dollars to scammers. First you get a letter about a sweepstakes that you can enter by simply returning a form. From the group that returns this first entry, they send out a second offer asking you to give $10 to increase your chances of winning. From the group that sends in the $10, they then send a third letter asking for $20. Then they take the list of people who sent in the $20 and they sell these lists to scammers. The list can go for as much as $50,000. But the amount of money the scammer can make off the list can be in the millions.
What should you do? Stop answering your telephone. Screen all your calls and never respond to requests to punch a number. Delete all suspicious emails, do not respond to strangers, and do not give your personal email to people who contact you via the computer. You cannot see them and you really do not know who they are. Remember, no government entity will contact you by email.
Most importantly, understand that none of these sweepstakes offers you get in the mail will actually result in you winning anything. Especially those that ask you to pay money. Signing up for magazine subscriptions where you actually get a product is entirely different than sending actual money. These are all scams and the only winner is the scammer.