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Osakis Voices: Don't be duped by scammers

There aren't many subjects around that get me too fired up, but scammers are one that absolutely makes my blood boil. Working at the First National Bank of Osakis, I see the end results of these scams — the victims of scams and the money lost because of these scammers. I'd like to touch base on a few things to look out for, along with some tips on how to prevent yourself, or someone you know or care for, from falling prey to these thieves, because that's exactly what they are.

Scammers wear many masks and will try to reach you using a bevy of different methods. A lot of them are by phone call, but some can come from emails, fake social media profiles, fake credit card readers... the list goes on and on. Last year, Americans lost $905 MILLION dollars because of these scams! The average amount lost in each of these scams came in at about $430, but keep in mind, those were only the scams that were reported, a lot of people don't report due to embarrassment of being duped. The worst part: The overwhelming majority of these losses could have been prevented.

So, how do we spot these scammers, and ultimately keep ourselves from getting scammed? Since a large majority of these scams come from phone calls, starting with good phone skills is a sure ticket to keeping your money. Anytime you see a number that is calling you that isn't from your contact list, you should be cautious even answering the phone. You're typically not going to see a voicemail from scammers. Granted, scammer methods change frequently, so that may become something down the road. If someone is calling you, they should be able to tell you what your name is. If they cannot do that simple task, it is more than likely a scam, and you should hang up. If they're calling about a warranty on your car, student loan discounts, late income tax payments, credit card discounts (these are some of the scenarios I've either personally heard or have heard of), know that that is commonly a scam. Don't give any banking or personal information over the phone unless you know exactly who you are calling. You can confirm this by calling the place yourself, with a number you know is correct, that way you're talking to an employee with that company, versus taking someone's word for it that called you from a random number.

Some scams come from fake card readers, typically at gas station pumps or bank ATMs. Make sure before inserting your card that you grab the piece that you'd insert your card in and give it a jiggle. If it comes loose or off, it may have been a skimmer, which is a tool that reads your card information as you insert it.

Email scams are also on the rise. If you see a hyperlink within your email, it's more than likely something that will lead you to a fake website or will download a virus onto your computer. Even if it's from a contact of yours, make sure the email makes sense. If it just says, "check this out," and has a link to click, it'd be best to simply delete that email.

In the end, the more vigilant people become about scammers, the less active scammers will be, as there will be less people letting themselves be stolen from. If your phone rings, and it's not a known number, it's best to not even answer it, and if it's important, they'll leave a message. If you feel inclined to take the call, just be weary of anyone asking for personal information, no matter how innocent it sounds. When you're about to swipe your card, just double check the part that your insert your card into to make sure it's real. Lastly, don't click on links from your email, even if it's someone from your contact list, unless it's something that you were expecting. I hope none of you fall victim to a scammer, and hopefully these tips keep you on that side of the fence.

Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.

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