This year’s election has felt a lot more like hockey fight than an orderly Democratic process, much less the fabled one that makes America great. While there’s no ignoring the missing Chiclets from Uncle Sam’s hitherto perfect smile, talk of election irregularities isn’t exactly new. So, how worried should you be?
In addition to the usual election scam warnings— the ones that actually affect people at a consumer level and need to be addressed every single time we go to the polls —Donald Trump has raised the specter of a “rigged election.” So, how worried should we all be?
The New York Times reported in 2007—before the age of state-sponsored hacking—“that a five-year investigation by the Bush administration ‘turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.’”
While times have changed, it is doubtful there will be any credible calls for revolution on November 9 either. It is true that the world — not to mention the underworld of state-sponsored hacks and WikiLeaks — was a different place nine years ago, when the Bush administration decided there was no organized threat to our federal elections. But for practical purposes, there is only one way the abstract and unknowable threats cited by both candidates can affect this election, and that is through older forms of election scams, listed below.
When Emotions Run Riot
Because Mr. Trump has complained of widespread election fraud in the final days of his campaign, the idea is now firmly planted in the consciousness of the nation. There have been calls to monitor polling stations, which has given rise to concern that this practice might intimidate voters and suppress voter turnout, which is one of the oldest election scams there is.
False Information on Polling Stations
Beware tweets, Facebook posts, Snapchat messages, Instagram posts, emails, texts, phone calls or carrier pigeons bearing bad news about your polling stations, because this is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
This can be information fraud, essentially, with the goal of keeping voters from showing up, either with claims that the lines are long or the polling station has been moved. If you receive any communication regarding your polling station, contact your local Board of Elections to confirm the information.
It’s the weekend before Election Day, and everyone is nervous — whether or not the message is about voter fraud, a rigged election or something else, there’s a chance you may become the victim of a targeted attack.
There’s a knock at your door; you receive a call, email or text. The request: Time is running out and we need your contribution to get (insert the name of the local, state or federal candidate or political party of your choice) over the finish line. The money will go toward crucial last-minute ads, or the get-out-the-vote effort. Or perhaps it’s a pitch to fund poll watchers to ensure that only legitimate, registered, living voters are allowed to cast their votes.
Your next move, regardless of the method of outreach, visceral appeal of the pitch or even the legitimacy of the caller: Go to the official website of that candidate, party or organization and donate through a secure webpage, or call the particular campaign and ask if they accept contributions by phone, or write a check and mail it to the official campaign address or take it personally down to headquarters.
Never, ever provide payment card information to anyone in person, online or by phone unless you are in control of the interaction and have confirmed their legitimacy.
You may also be contacted with a request to update your voter registration information. This may be accompanied by news that your name was purged from the voting roll because of your failure to vote in a previous election, or that all the names in your district were purged due to a computer glitch. You might even be asked for a payment card number to assist in confirming your identity, or to pay a re-registration fee.
Never, ever provide sensitive personal information to anyone in person, online or by phone unless you are in control of the communication and have confirmed their legitimacy. If you are concerned, immediately contact your local Board of Elections to find out if there really is a problem.
Voting by Phone
This is the easiest scam to resist, because you absolutely, positively cannot vote by phone, no matter where you live. That’s why there are absentee ballots. If you didn’t get one in time, don’t fall for any promises of rectifying that matter.
Other Scams Aimed at Identity Theft
Many voting scams hurt consumers not by stealing an election but by stealing sensitive information to commit crimes. As discussed, any communication requesting or requiring that you provide your personally identifiable information in connection with your eligibility to participate in an election — even your physical address and email address or confirmation that you are the Bob Smith associated with this physical address and that virtual one — should be greeted with a very healthy dose of skepticism and a call to the local Board of Elections.
Bear in mind, there are other kinds of election-related fraud, and crooks are by necessity inventive. Whether it’s a fake pollster offering you any perk, provided you give up either payment card information or sensitive personal information, or a fraudulent representative of the Board of Elections, you need to be on your guard. If you have reason to believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, be sure to check your credit score for signs of mischief. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan (since everyone else is): Never Trust, always verify.