BBB: Uninformed decisions can come with high price
Young people, seniors and members of the military are most often targeted for fraud and identity theft.
I believe it’s because they often are transitioning their lives and miss cues that would indicate a problem.
Youth today are much more tech savvy, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to “life smarts.” At 18 years old, they are still quite uninformed about credit – and how it works. The evils of credit card interest rates do not calculate when they are contemplating the latest electronic gadget. And even if they avoid the perils of living beyond their means through credit cards, they often are not aware of their credit in general. They either aren’t taught or don’t think to check their credit once a year to make sure that some scammer hasn’t accessed their spotless credit history.
Many times they don’t know there’s a problem until they try to purchase their first car or home, and find a horrid credit score.
The elderly may be living completely different lives than they did in their younger years. Often they are home alone to answer the phone or the door and find the company on the other end enjoyable to chat with. Sometimes they, or a loved one, are at a stage where more medical care is required and can only watch as medical bills rack up, which causes a sense of desperation.
Whether it’s because they appreciate a friendly face or hope that their financial problems may be resolved, they wire transfer $5,000 to Nigeria. And never see it again.
And then there is our beloved military personnel and their families. The decision maker often is the one shipped overseas, leaving the spouse to handle the financial situation at home, on top of all their regular responsibilities.
Sometimes that is not a role their spouse has had to operate in before and can make decisions in their absence that cause grave effects to their financial well-being. Sometimes it’s a matter of a young recruit collecting a sum of money upon enlistment and they are not educated on the best way to handle the newfound “wealth.”
Whatever the reason, we find these groups of people to be at a higher risk for predatory business tactics and identity theft. Scammers can sense vulnerability. They will play on your fears that you need this service. They will pretend to be your best friend. They will try bullying you. They will lie. They will be persistent and relentless.
You think it could never happen to you, but you would be amazed at how often we get calls. Life throws circumstances at us and we hope we’re prepared in moments of unexpected change to make the right decision.
I received a mailing last week for a “quick payday loan.” Let’s pretend I was in a slightly different situation – maybe less informed, maybe desperate because of a medical bill, maybe I just wanted to afford that gift for my daughter’s first birthday tomorrow and knew I was getting a paycheck in two weeks. Let’s say I decided to call and take advantage of that quick $800 loan, the maximum amount they would loan me. Later I come to find out that loan was given at a rate of 398 percent interest and I now owe $264 a week for the next six weeks – $3,184! This was listed on the bottom of the back page in tiny print. Quite obvious, right?
Our mantra 100 years ago is still applicable today: “Before you invest … investigate.” Take time to read the fine print, look up the company’s rating at www.bbb.org, search the Web for any related scams and educate those around you. Make sure your changing life doesn’t get in the way of making smart decisions.
Eleanor Katzele is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana.