A man receiving an incoming suspected spam call on his phone. The network provider detect the scam and show warning sign to rejects the call. High angle view.

I was sitting at the courthouse waiting for my client’s case to be called when my cell phone rang. The caller announced that he was an officer from a governmental agency. I had no current interactions with that agency. I hung up before he could ask me other questions, such as my social security number or a link to my bank account. The day before that I had received an email from an attorney’s email address. It contained a link to download discovery documents. I did not know the attorney and had not asked for discovery documents from her or her law firm. I did not open the attachment, and immediately deleted the email. 

Today’s scammers are merely two-bit thieves without class or imagination. They lack the finesse shown by the far more creative hustlers, flimflammers, chiselers, and grifters over the previous centuries.

Scams Throughout History

The earliest verified fraud case occurred in 300 BC, when two Greek merchants, Hegestratos and Zenosthemis, deliberately sank their ship so that they could collect on the insurance policy. Being either inept or very unlucky, they were caught in the act, leading to Hegestratos’ untimely death and  Zenosthemis’ trial in the Athenian courts. 

From there we went to plain old hustles – the Praetorian Guard auctioning off the Roman Empire to Julianus, con men selling the Eiffel Tower multiple times to tourists, serial marriers forgetting to divorce the current wife before marrying the rich widow, and flimflammers using marked cards in any number of card games.

Things got a bit bigger from there. Rather than causing pain one victim at a time, mega fraudsters like Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff figured out how to cheat thousands of people by using the same scheme repeatedly. The perpetrators of the old days were evil, but their plans were audaciously brilliant.

Present-Day Scams

That brings us to the present-day scammers who hunch over computers to dupe their victims. No razzle-dazzle for them. Just phone calls, emails, and fake electronic readers

You don’t want to fall victim to a mere mundane thief, so put down your phone, close out your email, and read through this list. 

Most Common Scams

  • Data breaches that are used to take over existing accounts or pose as individuals
  • Cloning email addresses and URLs
  • Using fake credit cards  for ATM withdrawals
  • Cryptocurrency fraud by thieves who “phish”
  • Robo-calls and scam texts
  • Romance scams using dating and social media sites
  • Spoofing, where the thief disguises an email address or phone number
  • Charity scams

How to Prevent Scams

You can take steps to minimize the chance of being a victim. The older you get, the more you will be targeted. Here are a few ideas.

Change Your Passwords

Change your passwords to a multi-string of random letters and numbers. Do not use the same password on different sites.

Block Unwanted Callers

Follow the tips on FCC.gov to block unwanted callers. Let unknown callers go to voicemail.  (I did not do that because I was expecting a phone call from an opposing counsel).

Secure Your Credit Report

Lock your credit report on the big 3 credit reporting agencies. Then check your credit report monthly.

Keep Personal Information Private

Don’t give out personal information over the phone, even if the caller identifies as someone you are doing business with:  your doctor, your title company, or your financial advisor. Instead, hang up, look up the business’s number, and initiate the call to them.  

Don’t Buy the Eiffel Tower or Roman Empire

Those aren’t currently for sale. 

If You Fall Victim to a Scam, Hammerle Finley is Here to Help

Anyone could fall victim to any of the scams outlined above. If this happens to you or a loved one, you may need to hire an attorney to help you get your affairs back in order. Contact the experts at Hammerle Finley Law Firm today. 

You are smarter than today’s scammers. Now go prove it.  

Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship, and contested litigation. She may be reached at legaltalktexas@hammerle.com. This blog contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.