Scammers are everywhere, so it’s important that you know what signs to watch for. We’ve identified several key ways that you can avoid being manipulated by scammers both online and offline.
Scammers typically aim to accomplish one of these things:
- Get your personal information
- Get free money
- Get free products or services
The methods and the techniques may vary, but the goals are always the same.
Watch out for these common scams.
Common scam methods include:
Dating and romance scams
The scammer emotionally connects with and manipulates you until you send money, gifts or reveal personal info.
Fake charity scams
The scammer impersonates a real charity to solicit donations from you. This is especially common during natural disasters or major, newsworthy events.
The scammer promises you a huge return on an investment.
Jobs and employment scams
The scammer tricks you into paying something before they start earning money (here’s an example).
Threats and extortion scams
The scammer steals your identity by hijacking your computer, threatening your life or other means.
Unexpected winning scams
The scammer claims you need to send some money in order to receive a lot of money.
The scammer pretends to be a bank or other agency in order to trick you into reveal your account information.
This is not an exhaustive list. Scammers are very creative and constantly coming up with new strategies to trick us out of our money.
Keep yourself safe with these tips.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fall prey to a scam. We’ve found a few ways that you can keep yourself safe from most scammers.
Always verify the sender.
Most phishing and spoofing scams (in fact, most email scams) are easily identifiable if you look at the sender’s email address.
Anything that is legitimately from a company will end in the company’s official web domain (for example, chase.com). Someone from a free email account like Gmail or Yahoo would not be the one to inform you if you won something or had a problem with your account.
Of course, anyone can buy a domain. Beware of lookalike domains that are very similar but not quite identical. Many scammers will change a letter or a digit. They may also use subdomains or other extensions to make their email look legitimate. For example, PayPal email address all end in @paypal.com, but some spammers use things like @int.paypal.uk.org so that their domain has the PayPal name in it.
Many scammers will create an emergency situation so that you feel pressure to respond immediately. Often, this takes the form of a locked account or a fraud warning from a bank. The scammer hopes that by creating urgency, you will not waste time verifying their claims. However, the right course of action is always to reach out to your bank directly instead of responding to the scammer.
Always remember that banking institutions will NEVER call or email you directly to ask for your account information.
Clicking on links can load malware and viruses onto your device. Clicking links from unfamiliar sources can be very damaging and leave you exposed to dangerous scams.
This includes pop-ups and alerts on websites. While I am researching low income programs, I frequently encounter dangerous websites. Sometimes, a pop up will appear that essentially locks my computer until I click “accept” or “okay” or whatever button is in their pop up. In those cases, I always hit control-alt-delete and close all of my browser windows completely. I know that if I click that link, I will end up with a virus or something dangerous on my computer.
If you receive an email, only open links from trusted senders. Even if you know who sent the link, be very careful opening it. A common scam involves sending a link to a video with a click bait phrase like, “OMG, is this you?!”
Of course you want to click on that… but if you do, you might just download a virus. Don’t click the link, no matter how tempting it is.
Never disclose sensitive personal information.
Do not reveal sensitive personal information, such as bank accounts or Social Security numbers, in your emails or over the phone. If someone calls me and needs me to verify my identity, I always refuse if I do not recognize the phone number. If it’s someone I need to speak with, I can always call the company back at an official, known number to make sure that I am revealing my information to a trustworthy source. It is simply not worth the risk.
Never pay in gift cards.
I’m going to say it again: NEVER pay with gift cards.
“Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always, always, always a scammer,” warned Jennifer Leach, the Assistant Director of the Division of Consumer and Business Education of the Federal Trade Commission.
Leach explained, “Scammers love gift cards. It’s one of their favorite ways to get your money. These cards are like giving cash – and nearly untraceable, unless you act almost immediately… Gift cards are for gifts, not payments.”
Never send money in order to get money.
Whether it’s a Nigerian Prince or a lottery award, you must never spend money in order to receive money. These scams will assure you that you’ve won a substantial amount of money, but that you need to send a deposit or help them pay a fee so that they can send you the rest of the money that you’ve won.
People fall for this scam all the time. Especially when you don’t have enough money to get by, the idea of having a windfall of cash is very tempting. I understand…
…but the unfortunate truth is that the money doesn’t exist. It’s never delivered. You’ll send money and receive nothing in return, and you’ll end up worse off than before.