by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – While federal investigators and the national media are trying to figure out the real impact of the hacking and digital theft impacting Target customers, experts are warning Missourians to watch their money closer to home.
On “Missouri Viewpoints”, Secretary of State Jason Kander and the Better Business Bureau’s Tracy Hardgrove explain the battle against con artists from both the public and private sectors.
“There are more scams now than there ever have been and they are more stealth, sneakier than they ever have been and so the consumer has to be wiser than they ever have been.”
That’s why the infamous Nigerian money transfer scam is not seen in too many inboxes anymore. That fraud, and other like it, are being replaced by more sophisticated ones. The newer ones involve identity theft and often use more believable tactics, according to Hardgrove.
She warns against assuming any email you get is legitimate. Sometimes, the email claims to be from your bank or broker. It may even look real, with the correct logos and crisp graphics but be from a thief.
“It looks like a legitimate email, saying ‘we need to verify this’ or ‘there’s a problem with your account, send me this information’ and the minute you send that information they have access to your account.”
She says to always pick up the phone and call you bank, broker or financial institution instead of replying to an email or, better yet, meet with them in person. Beware of emails that claim to be from a government agency as well. The BBB says they’ve received reports of emails claiming to be from the FBI or the IRS that demand personal information like Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers or personal identifying information.
Those agencies to not initiate contact with anyone via email.
Hardgrove says one of the best methods of financial self-defense is also one of the most simple: ask questions. Whether you are called directly by someone asking for a charitable donation or get a letter from what appears to be your financial institution, the person on the other end of the line should be ready and willing to give you the information you need.
“If they are unwilling to answer any questions you have, I would take that as a red flag.”
If the sales pitch involves securities and other investments, the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office will likely be involved. Secretary Jason Kander doesn’t want a small number of con artists to harm the financial services industry, but he does want the bad guys to pay.
“The vast majority of folks who work in the financial services sector are good folks who are just trying to help you grow your wealth for retirement but, like anything else, there are a few bad apples and we make sure to work with the industry and, in some cases, be the policeman to make sure we return money to folks who have lost it.”
Of course, losing money is always a risk with any investment – including the real ones.
Both Hardgrove and Kander suggest checking on the broker or salesperson before transferring money anywhere. You can do that through the local BBB and through the Secretary’s office because the latter is where professional registrations are managed. If the financial agent or broker is not registered with the Secretary of State’s Office, they cannot legally sell investments in the state.
The bottom line when it comes to your bottom line is “buyer beware”.
On The Web:
Better Business Bureau www.BBB.org
Missouri Secretary Of State: www.SOS.MO.gov