So, you think YOU can’t get scammed?

Every week – sometimes every day – I talk to individuals, the media, and community organizations about the dangers of getting scammed. There is always something new or timely to share – the latest e-mail going around, scams related to holidays or to a specific demographic, or something tied to a new technology or social media. Trust me, there are so many scams our there, sometimes it practically takes my breath away.

Even with all of those scams, most people think there is no way it could happen to them. They think they are too smart, or too suspicious, or too careful. They assume that those who are getting scammed are naïve, impaired in some way, or getting too old.

Even I can have this mindset, often saying to groups, “I know that none of us would fall for something like this, but we all know someone who might, so we need to know what can happen and help protect those people.”

Well, I am here to tell you that – given the right circumstances – anyone can fall victim. If we get hit in just the right way, at just the right time, even the smartest of us can get scammed.

This reality hit home for me in the last week, as a close friend fell victim and today is out $11,300.

What happened? Well, my friend – who is a smart, successful, self-made business leader in our community – received an e-mail that looked like it was coming from his business partner, asking that he immediately wire $11,300 to a client to make sure that an important deal was not lost. The message said that the business partner was stuck in a long meeting and that he was e-mailing from his cell phone, so any typos in the message should be forgiven. The message stressed that the money had to be sent quickly, so the client would get the money in time.

My friend, who is a busy guy and considers himself a man of action, happened to have time right then. He wanted to help his business partner and knew that speed is often important to clients. It was not his personal money, so his level of suspicion was not high.

He got up from his desk, drove down the street to the bank, and wired the money to an account in another state. Then he did not think about it again for two days, when his business partner called, asking why the money was not in their company’s bank account.

You know the rest of the story. That money is gone. It was moved just as soon as it hit the new account. Today, it is probably overseas. No matter where it is, my friend’s company will almost certainly never see it again.

Take this as a warning to all of us. Scams do not have to be super clever, they just have to hit in just the right way at just the right time, and part of that is just bad luck.

The lesson to be learned is that we all have to be far more careful than we ever have been. We have to realize that these scams are out there, and we have to know what to look for. When we see anything that seems just a little out of the ordinary, where money or personal information is involved, we need to be ready to take a step back, ask questions, or just walk away.

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Student of Ethics Scholarship, $2500

The mission of Better Business Bureau is to build trust in the marketplace, and we pursue this in a variety of ways. People know about many of our programs related to consumers and businesses – such as business accreditation or the BBB consumer complaint program – and may be less familiar with our efforts to educate and promote a culture of trust with the young. Our Student of Ethics scholarship is one of many ways we seek to do this.

The Student of Ethics scholarship program recognizes high school students who personify high ethics, demonstrated through leadership, community service, overall personal integrity, and academic history. Rewarding ethical behavior in this way allows us to promote ethics awareness and discussion that reaches the very young, as well as the broader community.

To choose scholarship recipients, an independent panel of judges reviews applications from high school juniors. Scholarships must be used within three years of receiving the award, and are distributed to each student’s college or trade school upon verification of enrollment. The scholarship must be applied toward school-related expenses, including: tuition, books, room and board, or other related items.

In 2016, the deadline for applications is May 30. Judges evaluate entries based how well students demonstrate their commitment to high ethical behavior, using a completed entry form, a 300-word essay written by the student, the student’s high school transcript, and a letter of reference. Materials are scored based on: leadership, 10%; community service, 10%; academic performance, 10%; letter of reference, 10%; and personal essay, 60%.

For more information, please contact Sean Spence at 573-886-8965 or sspence@midmobbb.org.

Shred-Day: An Adventure in Preventing Identity Theft

This year’s annual BBB Shred Day was just so awesome. It was my first, so I did not really know what to expect, and it was much cooler than I ever would have thought it could be. The goal of the day is to provide free shredding services to people who want to dispose of old documents that might contain important personal information – tax returns, pay stubs, credit card statements, etc. This is an incredibly important step in the effort to prevent identity theft.

Last year in Mid-Missouri, we had 224 cars go through our line to deposit boxes and bags of old, sensitive documents into our industrial shredder (in the back of a big box truck, graciously provided by Shred-It). Our goal for this year was to service 250 cars, which would have been an increase of a little more than 10%.

Would you believe over 379 cars took advantage of our shredding service? That’s an increase of 69% over last year. Car after car just kept coming throughout the four hours we had announced we would be open. Thankfully – because of the awesome Shred-It truck and a troop of volunteers to unload cars and keep the shredder filled – the line got pretty long at several points, but it never took more than a few minutes for a car to get through it. The whole process ran like a well-oiled machine.

Well, it ran like a well-oiled machine until we broke the shredder.

Nobody had anticipated that we would have so many more cars than last year, so Shred-It sent a smaller truck than they otherwise would have. By the time we were done for the day, we had loaded in so much paper that the back of the truck, where the paper was stored, was literally bulging like it was seven months pregnant. There was a door on the back – for dumping out the paper for recycling – and it looked about to burst open, with openings at the seams where paper was starting to spill onto the road.

We used duct tape to cover the places where paper was falling out of the truck – yes, duct tape! – and I followed the truck, in my car, for the two hours back to the recycling facility, so I would be there to warn the truck driver if the doors were about to burst open and dump tons of paper onto the highway (something the company’s auto shop supervisor assured us could not happen).

In the end, the truck made it back just fine, and it turned out we had processed over five tons of paper during our Shred Day. Setting aside the unexpected end-of-day adventure, the day was a huge win for consumers who wanted to protect themselves from identity theft.

For more information about protecting yourself against identity theft, check out midmobbb.org.

A BBB Victory Over Scammers, at Kiwanis

Speaking to groups about BBB is something I do quite a bit, providing a good way to reach people at a time when they are particularly receptive to our message. Often, these engagements provide an opportunity to speak with attendees one-on-one, answering questions about BBB and helping address problems they may be facing.

This week, I spoke to a Kiwanis club. Groups like this are good because there is generally a mix of business people and consumers, including several business owners who might want to learn more about the value of accreditation. There are also generally several senior citizens, which are good for us because they are the most highly targeted demographic for scams, and some of what I talk about can be particularly valuable for them.

Following this week’s talk, a gentleman asked if he could share his story. He was a veteran, obviously in his 80s or maybe even 90s, and such a nice, sharp guy. In the previous week, he had received a phone call from someone purporting to be with the IRS, saying that he needed to pay $150, right then, over the phone, or he was going to be arrested for some unnamed tax violation. The gentleman fell for it, providing his credit card information to make the payment.

A few days had passed and the man had started to realize that he might have been the victim of a scam, and then he knew for sure when I specifically addressed this scenario during my talk. We talked about it and he was ready to write it off as a lesson learned, but I gave him two things he should do to help address the situation (both of which were especially applicable because this had happened within the last week), and one that could help others avoid facing the same problem.

First, I told him to call his card company and report what had happened. If he would do that, it is actually pretty likely that he will get his money back. Credit card companies, even more than debit cards, make it possible to reverse false charges.

Second, on that same call with his credit card company, he needed to cancel that card and get a new one. What he had not considered was that the scammers now had his card information, and could charge much more than $150 to it.

Third, I suggested that he report what had happened on the BBB scam tracker (he said he would get his great-grandson to help him). All he needed to do was a quick Web search for “BBB Scam Tracker” and he would find it right away. It would take him just a few minutes to report what had happened, and others would be able to see the scam report and where it had taken place (on a very cool, interactive map of the country), and they could avoid having the same thing happen to them.

To be honest, most scam stories I hear do not end this well. In so many cases, the money is gone forever and all we can do is warn others about what has happened. It was awfully nice to have the opportunity to help someone solve his problem, and still use his experience as a warning for others.