Can you recognize the 4 Ps of a scam?

(BPT) - Have you ever received a call or message from someone claiming to be from a governmental agency like the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security, or even claiming to be your grandchild? Did they ask for money, demand immediate payment, or say you've won the lottery? Did it make you feel threatened, scared, or suspicious? Trust your gut. It's likely a scam.

Scammers can target anyone, but some of their favorite targets are older Americans. In 2023, reports show people over 60 years of age lost $3.4 billion to scammers.

In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, June 15, 2024, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers these tips to help you outsmart the scammers. It's about recognizing the "Four Ps" that are the hallmarks of a scam.

Recognize the 4Ps of a scam

1. Scammers PRETEND to be from an organization you know.

Scammers often pretend to be contacting you on behalf of the government. They might use a real name, like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company, or even a charity asking for donations.

They use technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID, so the name and number you see is the same or close to the information from a legitimate company.

2. Scammers say there's a PROBLEM or a PRIZE.

They might say you're in trouble with the government. Or you owe money. Or someone in your family had an emergency. Or that there's a virus on your computer. Some scammers say there's a problem with one of your accounts and that you need to verify your information. Others will lie and say you won money in a lottery or sweepstakes, but you first need to pay a fee to get it.

3. Scammers PRESSURE you to act immediately.

Scammers want you to act before you have time to think. If you're on the phone, they might tell you not to hang up so you can't check out their story. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver's or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted.

4. Scammers tell you to PAY in a specific way.

They often insist that you can only pay by using cryptocurrency, wiring money, using a payment app, or putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card. Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), then tell you to deposit it and send them money.

What to do about it

If you hear any of these Four Ps, or if your gut just tells you something's wrong, trust your gut instinct. It is not a legitimate call; it's probably a scam. The IRS, Social Security or any governmental agency will never call you to pressure you for payment. The same goes for your utility company. Remember, these are scams.

You may think, then what should I do? The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recommends that you:

Hang up immediately. If you're on the phone with a scammer, hang up. If they've left a message, ignore it, delete it, and block the number. If you're in doubt, never call back the number that left the message. Instead, look up the real number of the legitimate agency, company or whoever the scammer is pretending to be. Call that number to verify.

Report this to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC wants to stay on top of what's happening out there to keep ahead of it.

Never pay a scammer! Remember, if they're asking you for some odd way to pay, just hang up and forget about it. Examples of unusual payment methods include, and are not limited to, using cryptocurrency, money orders, a payment app, and gift cards.

Create an "emergency word" with your grandchildren. The "grandparent scam" is extremely prevalent. Someone claims to be your grandchild in trouble, needing cash immediately to get them out of jail or some other contrived situation. Thwart this by making a plan with your grandchildren. Choose an unusual word your grandchildren can use if they are legitimately in trouble and really calling for your help.

By recognizing the 4Ps and knowing what to do, you can stop scammers in their tracks. For more information, visit the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

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