SEATTLE, Wash. - With scams on the rise, more people find themselves asking, "Is this for real?"
Nearly 80 percent of Washingtonians report being the target of an imposter scam last year, according to a survey released May 17, 2017 by AARP. The survey also revealed that people are overconfident: While 85 percent said they can spot a scam, 77 percent failed a quiz testing their ability to do so. Being online makes folks especially vulnerable to fraud.
Courtney Gregoire, associate general counsel at the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, said you should never trust a site or caller unless you reached out to them for help.
"Did you initiate seeking out some help from tech support? We want folks to think about that," she said. "You got a pop-up window when you were just browsing the internet that says you may have a virus? You did not seek that out. That is not how Microsoft, and many other trusted organizations, would tell you there was a problem."
Microsoft, AARP, the attorney general's office, the Federal Trade Commission and credit union BECU are launching their "Unmasking the Imposters" campaign today at South Seattle College. Stops are scheduled in the Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Spokane.
Gregoire said Washingtonians should watch out when giving anyone remote access to their computers as well.
"When they ask the victim, 'Can you just give me remote access to your computer? I'll fix it,' that's a moment that you've really opened - to be perfectly honest - it's like your back door to your home," she said. "You've given them access to your computer and all that's stored there."
Shannon Smith, who heads the Consumer Protection Division at the Washington Attorney General's office, said it's important to note the Internal Revenue Service won't call to ask for back taxes; the agency sends a written notice first. If someone calls saying a family member is in danger and asks for money to help them, she said, reach out directly to that family member instead.
"We repeat this advice for a lot of different kinds of scams, but it's important to be suspicious of anybody who calls you and asks you for money."
Smith said Washingtonians should reach out to the attorney general's office if they feel they have been the target of a scam and report it, which could help prevent others from falling victim.
The AARP survey is online at AARP.org.