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How To Stay Safe As Theft, Fraud Skyrocket During The Pandemic

HEBER CITY, Utah – Theft and fraud have skyrocketed in Utah during the pandemic, and experts said it’s more important than ever to be vigilant.

Stability and longevity have smiled on Phyllis Parcell. “I’ve lived in Heber City all my life. In just a month. I’ll be 97,” she said.

Parcell is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. “I send everybody a card, a birthday card on their birthday,” she said. “It’s a good thing I got a calendar.”

Parcell found a bike online that seemed like a steal.

Phyllis Parcell is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. (Parcell family)

“Yeah, it was the best deal I’d seen for a while,” she said. “Yeah, I was quite excited.”

But her daughter Jill Duke, AARP community outreach director, noticed something was suspicious.

“It said, ‘It’s much better if you pay with a check,’” Duke said. “They said, ‘Just put in all your routing number from your check.’”

It was information that would give scammers direct access to her funds.

“Probably not just her checking, but her savings and lots of other stuff,” Duke said.

It was a real concern given that in Utah, identity theft increased 99% over the last year. At the same time, online shopping fraud rose by 97%, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

But seniors have a built-in advantage: experience. Knowing if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“It really is as simple as kind of three big steps,” said Daniel O’Bannon, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection. He recommends knowing the scammer’s playbook.

The first tool they use is “Pose and Pretend.”

“Scammers are going to pretend like somebody you know and trust: like the government, like the power company, like the sheriff,” O’Bannon said.

Next — “Problems and Prizes.”

“You’ve won the lottery, you just need to pay a little bit of money. Or, there’s a real problem here: you haven’t paid your bill,” O’Bannon said.

All leading to the “Pressure to Pay.”

“They want you to pay money, they want you to pay it now, and they usually want you to pay it using a prepaid gift card,” O’Bannon said.

These plays all fall apart when you stop and think.

“Hitting pause is like when Rudy Gobert swats a shot and it goes flying into the stands. It pushes the scam away and gives you a chance to say, ‘Wait a second.'”

Luckily, Parcell did just that and went with a different bike.

“Looks kind of cute going down the street,” she said.

She couldn’t be happier with her purchase. “Blue is my favorite color,” she said. “So this is perfect and it just fits.”

Experts also recommend keeping a close eye on your finances. Investigate any unknown charges, even small amounts.

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