New Castle News

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December 2, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Personal skepticism is best defense against scams

NEW CASTLE — The caller said she had been targeted by a telephone scam.

She wanted me to put something in the paper to warn others.

I asked if she had contacted police about the matter. She replied that she had, but was told that because she did not lose any money, there was nothing police could do.

Under the circumstances, I said there wasn’t much we could do either. I said that scams are a dime a dozen and we run news items about them all the time — without any indication they help.

But the caller was persistent. She said this one was different, because it targeted senior citizens. Again, I replied, nothing unusual about that.

I encouraged her to write a letter to the editor, if she was concerned about her encounter, but she obviously was displeased that I failed to jump at the opportunity to handle it myself.

There were a couple of reasons for that. First, an individual’s belief that something is a scam does not necessarily make it so. The caller may have been absolutely correct, but I had no evidence to back that up.

Second, I am always concerned when we report specific scams, because this runs the risk of indirectly legitimizing others. The reality is that scams are everywhere these days, thanks to modern communications. It’s impossible for any newspaper or any entity to keep track of them all and effectively warn the public.

And you can’t expect law enforcement to be much help, either. Most of these scammers operate beyond state or even national boundaries. Tracking them down can be all but impossible.

Plus, the scams themselves quickly morph into new forms. Often, they take advantage of current events to fool people into giving up their money or crucial personal information.

So here’s my piece of anti-scam advise: Be suspicious. Be skeptical. Even if you get an email that seems to be from someone you know, be careful.

I consider everything to be a scam, until I am persuaded otherwise.

Perhaps that’s the journalist in me. There’s an old saying in the newspaper business: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

So if I’m going to be wary of my mother, guess what I’m going to be thinking about a phone call or email from a stranger?

Scams come in countless forms, but they tend to boil down into efforts to employ fear, greed or guilt to separate you from your money. If you truly understand that, and are prepared for the inevitable scams we all now encounter, you will spare yourself considerable grief.

The fact is, the immediacy of scams — and the speed with which scammers can do their damage — mean we all have to be our own best lines of defense. We must protect ourselves, and we can do that best by being skeptical.

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