HELP LINE: Instead of falling for scams, ask for advice

Con artists abound, trying to steal information or gain money. Be cautious.

ALLOW ME TO begin by sharing something that almost all of us share: Almost none of us want to look like idiots.

Well, OK, granted, I do take a shot at it every week, but the fact is that very few of us want to look stupid.

And it is exactly that very human foible that allows a lot of scams and con games to succeed, but let’s begin with a current example of the bad guys being bad.

A lot of us are receiving phone messages these days that instruct us to call 855-955-9799 (that’s the number that I’ve seen, but there might be others) regarding software that has been installed on our computers and the “software company” has indications that our computers have been breached.

Appalled, if not openly freaked out, we dutifully call said number, where a helpful person solicits the necessary personal information to access our computers so they can fix the breach.

Information in hand, they access our computers and install an evil, infectious virus on our computers that we then have to pay to have them get rid of.

Oops. Ouch.

Now, the truth is that most of us are pretty convinced that cyberspace is a magical, mysterious realm in which unfathomable occurrences occur on a regular basis, so we leap to the only apparent lifeline.

What if we asked questions?

What if we had just consulted someone else (preferably a techie or someone who seems to know more about this than we do or any random, readily available adolescent) before we shot ourselves in the ­pocketbook?

Here’s another: Most of us are at least vaguely aware we’re teetering on the brink of open enrollment for Medicare Part D.

This annual event tends to bring out a lot of sales pitches and materials, not to mention bad guys who will gladly help you through it (for a price or “… all I need is a little information …”), and boom.

What would have happened if we’d just asked someone else’s ­opinion?

That someone doesn’t necessarily have to be a health insurance wonk, just someone whose opinion we trust to ask, “Does this make any sense to you?”

Or the mountain of stuff we all get in the mail.

Often seemingly Medicare-related, with all manner of official-looking seals and logos and names.

Usually selling something or offering to snatch us from the jaws of insurance-related catastrophe — if we just call.

Scam? Not usually. Deceptive advertising? Often.

So, we figure that out and fight back by shredding or recycling everything that even looks like that.

Take that.

Except we just shredded something that really was from Medicare or our Part D plan or our MediGap plan. Oops.

How do you know?

Well, unless you look at a lot of stuff like that on a regular basis, you might not.

So what if you just asked a friend, neighbor or a family member, “Hey, what do you think about this?”

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, “Hey, just asking somebody else is no guarantee that they’ll know any more than I do.”

True, but often two heads are better than one, particularly if that other head isn’t feeling nervous about whatever it is.

No guarantees, but you’re certainly improving your odds.

We don’t want to look like idiots.

We want to look competent, independent and capable, so we rattle whatever “it” is around in our heads until we no longer know if we’re coming or going, or until we’ve totally scared ourselves — then we do something.

And often, that something can be wrong.

I know some extremely intelligent people.

I also know that some of them have been scammed.

I also know that some of those extremely intelligent people routinely ask for advice when they’re out of their tree.

It doesn’t have to be health ­insurance and it doesn’t have to be computers.

It could be roof repairs, giveaways, free samples, sweepstakes, free cruises or a chance to purchase Massachusetts for a song.

It looks good. It sounds good. What an opportunity.

You bet it is — for the folks on the receiving end.

Just ask somebody’s opinion.

You’re not required to take it or act upon it, but you could at least consider it. Does this really make any sense?

I used the term “con game.”

The “con” is taken from the word confidence.

In other words, the bad guy (gal?) wins your confidence by being friendly and caring and solicitous — maybe they even know a little bit about you (which is readily available on the internet. Welcome to 2016).

So they’re pleasant, funny, ­engaging.

They win your confidence

They win your confidence, so you end up doing whatever it is.

Now consider: Would you expect someone who is trying to talk you out of your money or personal information to be rude? Gruff? Nasty? Insulting?

Neither would I, but they might threaten, as in some horrible thing that will inevitably happen if I don’t do/send/provide or agree to.

Really? Well, at this age, I think I’ll just ask some friends for some advice and take my chances.

And I won’t lie awake tonight worrying about a meteor shower, either.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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