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Protecting Our Asses-- I mean ASSETS

As is the norm for me lately, I had an idea for this post… But then I had a day at work that I can’t seem to get over. And of course that’s running through my brain like a snowball rolling downhill—it’s just getting bigger and bigger as the night wears on.


So it’ll be no surprise to Kirk that I’m changing directions. He’s blamed me of doing this mid-sentence on him for years. His theory is that I have no attention span (which I won’t argue with), but I know that it’s just because I think faster than he does. Michael Perry talks about his tendency to do the same in his book “Montaigne in Barn Boots”, and I’m not sure I’ve ever related to anything so much in my life.


So anyway, I work in a bank—I think I’ve said that before… But I work in a role where I have a fair amount of customer contact. As a result, I see a lot of fraud. Today’s fraud felt like a DOOZY. Obviously I’m not going to disclose anything here, but it made me angry at people in general.


Most of the fraud we see involves people who’ve been misled. Either someone trusted a person who lied to them (occasionally someone they know but more often it’s a stranger) or they signed up for something that wasn’t what they were led to believe. (**Pro Tip here—wait, no… I’ve got too many to keep interrupting with. Instead, I’ll add a pile to the bottom for you to check out if you’re interested…)


Several people have said to me, “I can’t believe I fell for this—I’m smarter than that!” And you know what? These scammers are professionals. They do extensive homework, and they have a lot of practice. This makes the scammers really good at what they do. I tell people not to blame themselves but to use it as a learning experience. The scammer is a professional. Just like Penn & Teller, their job is to fool you—you’re not going to blame yourself for failing to see whatever it is that makes their gold ball float on command…


Still other times, scammers and fraudsters fly completely under the customer’s radar. Sometimes they’ll use a debit or credit card number without authorization… Sometimes they’ll access online banking without the account holder knowing it (although this is super rare—in general this happens when someone has given out too much information to someone they shouldn’t trust). And still other times they’ll steal another person’s identity.


All of these things are terrible and horrifying.


And, unfortunately, some people are more susceptible than others. Another thing that scammers are good at is figuring out who is more susceptible because it makes their jobs easier.


So of course I worry about how this could affect friends and relatives. But even more than that, I worry about Nolan. I mean, I know I’m his mom and that’s my job, but it’s one more layer of worry to add to the pile.


Not only do I have to worry about the things he can’t tell me about (someone hurting him, a bully at school, pain or illness that we haven’t detected… the list is endless), I have to worry about the fact that he is more susceptible to this type of fraud. Do I have to worry that someday a caregiver is going to steal his debit card and leave him without any money to cover the things he needs? Do I have to worry that someone is going to pretend to be him to gain access to his assets? And do I have to worry that someday he’ll trust someone who only wants to take advantage of him?


I know he’s only 14, but adulthood is sneaking up on us in a hurry. And as time passes, scammers are only getting better at what they do. Sure, technology is making strides to keep up and prevent fraud, but it will never eliminate all fraud. Add to that the fact that Kirk and I won’t be here forever to watch out for him (as if that wasn’t scary enough without my fear of fraudsters), and it feels like another way the deck is stacked against him.


I’m trying to just be his mom for now and not let the future weigh too heavy… And I’m hoping that while I’m trying to enjoy the time we have left before adulthood hits us full force, someone else somewhere is thinking about the same problems and working toward a solution. Hopefully by the time we need it (along with so many others), developers will have come up with new technology to help keep ourselves and our loved ones safe from fraud, and our financial institutions will have more systems, processes and procedures in place to help do the same.


I mean, a mom can dream, right?

I like to think this little unintentional gesture is how Nolan would react to a scammer...


As promised, here are my “Pro Tips”. Please note none of these are advice directly from any bank—they’re just things I’ve learned by doing my job and seeing things that really happen to real people. I'm not endorsing anyone or anything, and I'm not looking for a lawsuit...

-A “Free Trial” doesn’t usually mean a free sample that you’re paying shipping for… You’re usually signing up for a subscription to whatever-it-is that you won’t be billed for until after 10-15 days—it really is worth it to read ALL of that fine print.)

-If someone calls you and just says, “Grandma?” (or “Grandpa?”), don’t guess at who is calling… Oftentimes, a scammer will start a call this way… Then when they’re answered with a, “Bobby, is that you?” the scammer has a way in… “Bobby” claims to be in trouble and under stress (which is why they might not sound quite like themselves… You see how this might work?) and needs to have money sent to get them out of whatever trouble this is. And of course, they don’t want you to call the police/ mom/ dad because that will just make the situation worse.

-Make sure your bank has your current contact information on file. If the bank has a question on something fishy, they’re going to reach out to you. Make sure they can find you when they do. (Seriously-- I cannot stress this one enough... It's so frustrating to try to help a person that you can't reach.)

-While it’s true that people fall in love online, don’t ever trust anyone you’re not very close to (and have met IN PERSON) with any of your personal information. You want to send me flowers? Okay, but you need very little information about me to do that (you don’t need my date of birth, my mother’s maiden name, any of my account numbers or social security number…) You want to help me balance my checking account so you want access to my online banking? NO EFFING WAY. And yes, these things really happen, and they happen ALL THE TIME.

-Debit and credit card numbers can be stolen in a lot of ways, and in the event of a compromise your bank usually won’t know how a scammer got your card number. There are ways to protect yourself, though.

In general, I try to avoid using card readers that aren’t physically located at a checkout or ATM (think gas pumps or car washes) because they're more vulnerable to devices criminals can install called skimmers. Skimmers collect information off of the cards that are used at the terminal and are small enough or otherwise blend in well enough to not be noticed.

If I do need to buy gas without going inside to pay, I use a pump where I can use a contactless payment method like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay—these services will use your smart phone to link to your debit card, but instead of transmitting your card number through the machine they use a false “token” number which protects your card information. When I can, I like to use these types services online for the same reasons.

Also whenever possible, I try to only use reputable online retailers—if I’m not familiar with a retailer, I’ll go to their “about” and "customer support" pages to check for anything that feels incomplete or otherwise fishy (which can also provide some valuable information on things like returns—some companies may require you to ship returns internationally which can be very expensive…) Otherwise, google the company name for reviews before I make a purchase.

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