This article is intended to provide you with some "self-defense" tips
for protecting you and your loved ones from becoming victims of fraud.
You need to be strong and in control in order to resist a fraudster.
Knowledge and awareness can be very powerful weapons against
fraud -- remember, knowledge is power.
An unfortunate, but all too common, occurrence when dealing with other people is that we are being deceived and lied to on a daily basis. Since lying and deception are so commonplace in society, individuals try to justify and categorize their misrepresented communications to others as little lies (fibs), large lies (whoppers) and a varying range of lies that fit in between.
Dealing with unknown people and unsolicited correspondence is risky as you try to determine what is fact and what is fiction. President Ronald Reagan often stated that you should trust what you are hearing, but then should verify it. It may be easier to verify the truth in a face-to-face meeting when you have all of the clues in front of you but the risk increases substantially when you deal with individuals over the phone or on a computer.
The use of the Internet has added a greater element of risk for individuals utilizing e-commerce, social networking sites and e-mail from unknown individuals or companies. The Internet is anonymous and the user never knows with absolute certainty with whom they are dealing. The same holds true for telephone calls from unknown callers or when receiving unsolicited mail. In the United States alone, elderly victims are scammed out of $2.6 billion per year and over one third of all fraud victims are over 60 years old.
Criminals want you to react emotionally and then to give up something that can victimize you. "Don't think, just do" is what the criminal wants you to do. When dealing with anonymous sources, it is extremely important to remember that you might be dealing with a criminal and you need to control your emotions. "Think first, decide second" is a good self-defense skill that you may need to practice.
How do criminals trigger your emotions to get you to like them and trust them? An example can be found among the persuasion techniques of Dale Carnegie:
"I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found for some strange reason, fish prefer worms, so when I went fishing, I didn't think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn't bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: 'Wouldn't you like to have that?' Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?" (Carnegie, 1981).
The anonymous criminal is indeed fishing for would-be victims and the criminal is trying to find the correct bait to dangle in front of you. Triggering your emotions may cause you to "bite" and give up your money to the criminal. If a criminal can control your emotion, they can control your actions.
It is important to realize that you are in control of any encounter on the Internet, by telephone or through the mail. Don't click on anything on the Internet, hang up the phone or recycle the papers received in the mail until you have had a chance to analyze and think about the offer or solicitation. If you are uncertain about how to proceed with an unknown party on the telephone, tell him/her that you first need to consult with a professional that you trust and then hang up. If the caller persists and you are uncomfortable, tell the caller that you will need to research the information with the fraud division of your local law enforcement agency before you make a decision. By delaying an immediate decision, you will control your emotion and your actions.
By remembering to "trust, but verify," you will have a greater chance of recognizing a criminal and protecting your personal information and assets that you have worked so hard to obtain. This simple rule provides you with the knowledge and awareness to control your actions and emotions in order to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of fraud. Remember also to utilize law enforcement and social service agencies as your partners in fraud prevention.
Carnegie, D. (1981). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Simon & Schuster
Allen Stehle, MS, is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and President of Beal College who is currently the Independent Candidate for Penobscot County Sheriff.