Security and Safety

6 Scams to Watch Out for This Year

By Joshua Baethge 2.18.19

Have you been getting calls from unknown numbers lately? So has Albert Beltran, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance agency manager in El Paso. He typically receives several calls a day that appear to be scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were 2.68 million reported incidents of fraud in 2017. These incidents cost consumers an estimated $905 million. All homeowners, especially the elderly, are vulnerable. But the truth is nearly anyone could become a scam victim.

It’s a sad fact that there are people out there looking to make a dishonest buck at your expense. But arming yourself with knowledge, guarding your information, and knowing your rights can help you avoid becoming a victim of scams.

Here are some common scams circulating and signs to watch out for.

“The Kidnapper”

Some of Beltran’s clients have received calls from unknown callers claiming to have kidnapped a loved one or friend. These scammers prey on the emotions of their target; in the fluster of the moment, many people are convinced to hand over “ransom” for someone they love who is actually perfectly safe. Sometimes the callers even know convincing details about their targets’ lives.

Beltran’s own mother has received scam calls from people requesting personal information like bank account numbers, social security numbers, and birthdays in order to distribute funds they are supposedly entitled to.

“The first thing I tell everybody is if you didn’t initiate the call, you don’t give any information out,” Beltran says. “That’s a for sure thing.”

“The IRS”

Luis Gonzalez, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent in El Paso and colleague of Beltran’s, has also witnessed his fair share of scams.

Many of his elderly clients have received scam calls from fake IRS demanding payment. Sometimes the caller even threatens to arrest a spouse. These calls can be particularly upsetting, because people tend to believe it when someone identifies themselves as a government official.

“It’s important to remember that the IRS doesn’t call you and doesn’t threaten to lock up your husband,” Gonzalez says.

This scam is so prominent that the IRS has developed guidelines addressing it. Take a look at their page and be reassured if you get one of these calls: No real IRS official will ever ask for an immediate payment or a payment method over the phone or threaten you.

“The City Worker”

We tend to trust people in uniform who seem to know what they’re talking about. Unfortunately, dressing as an electrician or a similar worker is a common way for thieves to gain access to a home.

One senior citizen in Arlington reported a couple who gained entry into her home by pretending to be water department employees in February 2017. The 81-year-old let the two in around 6 p.m. on a Saturday and was distracted by the woman, who began turning the faucet on and off, while her partner disappeared. The victim, who eventually caught on to the scam, told Fox4 she was able to get them out of her house by threatening to call the police; but she didn’t realize until afterward that the man had snuck off to steal her rings.

She’s not the only one who has fallen for this type of scam. Be alert to anyone who shows up at your door unannounced or uninvited, and always ask for credentials. If they can’t show you identification and proof of employment or give you a reputable number of an office to call, they’re not the real deal.

“The Electrician”

Scammers in Texas have conned homeowners into paying to switch their electricity company by falsely offering cheaper rates; they’ve also posed as their electrical provider and demanded payments by threatening to disconnect them. Some scammers even show up at homes wearing company logos or holding official-looking documents.

You should always contact your utility company directly if you have any questions about your bill or service, and only use trusted websites when vetting companies. The FTC offers these guidelines to empower yourself against utility scams.

Remember, you can always refuse to let someone into your home. If someone pressures you in any way to let them in, you should be suspicious. Even with workers you believe to be legitimate, you should feel empowered to ask them to wait outside while you verify their identity, especially if you are elderly or living alone.

“The Repairman”

Gonzalez reports seeing shady auto repair companies — and even attorneys — staking out car accidents. Many people have allowed their cars to be towed only to discover later that it was just a ruse to get the vehicle into a body shop. Once there, they are at the mercy of the repair shop, which may not release the vehicle without an exorbitant payment.

“With all businesses, there are good ones and there are bad ones. Most body shops are reputable, but those who just show up at accident scenes probably aren’t trustworthy,” Gonzalez advises.

It’s easy to see how you might get conned when shaken up and looking for help at the side of the road, instead of stopping to properly vet the person proffering a helping hand. Try to stay aware and stick with service providers you know and trust.

“The Claims Adjuster”

“No respectable insurance company is going to have the adjuster at the scene of an accident — they just don’t have that kind of time,” Gonzalez says. “The people who do have that kind of time are your ambulance chasers. They may offer advice, but they aren’t adjusters and they aren’t qualified to appraise.”

Texas Farm Bureau Insurance sends their own adjusters out to perform inspections and help settle claims — that’s part of the peace of mind you get when you know whom you’re working with. If you are ever contacted by someone you don’t know claiming to be a reliable insurance provider or requesting information about your insurance, contact your trusted Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent to confirm it.

It can also give you peace of mind to make sure your property insurance is up to date and your valuables are covered in the event of a theft.

Coverage and discounts are subject to qualifications and policy terms and may vary by situation. © 2019 Texas Farm Bureau Insurance