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Consumer Gal: Who gets scammed — and why

by Terri Dickerson
| December 23, 2021 1:00 AM

With scams on the rise, experts have been researching the question, “Who is the most susceptible to scams?”

It turns out that after a decade of research, the proper question isn’t who gets scammed, but rather what is the victim’s state of mind when crooks prey on them?

Researchers have focused on several parameters to help explain who gets scammed: age, education, income, introverts vs. extroverts, and geographic location. But none of these conditions pointed to a clear indication that one group was specifically targeted over another.

Surprisingly, convicts themselves revealed how their schemes are so successful. Crooks actually disclosed that they try to get victims emotionally involved as part of their pitch.

It isn’t who you are that matters but how you are when the pitch is made. Said differently, the victim’s emotional state at the time of the encounter is what separates victims from nonvictims.

For example, scammers aren’t shy in revealing that they go after emotionally vulnerable people such as survivors listed in obituaries or people who have just suffered from a natural disaster.

In fact, scammers admitted to trolling dating sites seeking out isolated, vulnerable people. Further, scammers intensified their efforts targeting homebound people who spent more time online this past year.

A study by the Federal Trade Commission exposed that it wasn't actually the elderly in the crosshairs of thieves as many believe, but rather the 20- to 29-year-olds. Figures from the study indicate that the younger age group was 44% likely to lose money to fraud compared to 20% of people 70-79.

The best advice is to slow down and stay aware. Those in their 20s may believe they're computer savvy enough to avoid scams, but it's exactly this thinking that works against them.

If something seems off and someone really has to convince you to do something, think about why they need your compliance. In this case, hanging up on the caller is always your best option.

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Fraudulent IRS offers

If you owe money to the IRS and receive a phone call from a person claiming they're from the IRS and are willing to reduce your debt in order to file an “Offer In Compromise,” be wary. Scammers have been calling with false offers to make debt reduction deals with taxpayers who owe money to the IRS.

Basically, an offer in compromise is an agreement between you and the IRS that settles a tax debt for less than the full amount owed. Ultimately, the IRS will charge you based on your true ability to pay — which is how scammers get involved because they try to trick taxpayers into divulging their personal information so they can steal their identity.

The authentic program navigates the taxpayer through the process of paying off their tax debt.

Instead of speaking with an unsolicited caller, you should check out the free tool offered by the IRS to start the process. Any notifications from the IRS will be made through the mail. The IRS website is:

https://irs.treasury.gov/oic_pre_qualifier/

You can use the tool to see if you're eligible for an offer in compromise with the IRS by filling out the questionnaire. This website also offers a link to the 32-page Form 656 Booklet for the offer in compromise that you can print out and review.

The booklet includes instructions on how to complete the application package and goes over what you'll need to know. If you do need to contact an IRS representative, you should initiate the phone call.

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Shop for car loans

If a new or used car purchase is in your future and you need a loan, shop for that loan before you head to a dealership. It might be a little more work but probably worth your time.

After picking a vehicle and agreeing on a purchase price, you're then put in front of a finance manager, whose job is to finish the deal. The finance manager will send your loan application to one or more lenders they work with to obtain a “buy” rate for the loan; this is the rate the lender offers to the dealer.

However, dealers make money off marking up the loan to the vehicle purchaser and the rate they offer you is a “sell” rate. Any amount between the buy and sell rates is pure profit and may be split between the dealer and lender, though specific details are a well-kept trade secret.

On the other hand, if you already know what loan rate you can get on your own, then you can compare the rate the finance manager offers and know if it is fair.

Expect resistance from the finance manager, as they're trained sales people and their goal is to sell you a loan and add-on packages. You may be offered appearance protection packages, extended warranties and maintenance packages. My advice is to resist a hard sell and evaluate your options on your own schedule.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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