Have you ever been a victim of scams? Do you know of anyone who has been scammed? Chances are very high that either you have been scammed or you know of someone who has been scammed.
Unfortunately, scamming has become very common in this digital age and scamsters are able to find new victims every minute of the day. In fact, scammers have made big bucks by scamming innocent people and due to the low likelihood of ever getting caught by law enforcement, they continue to target new victims incessantly.
According to the federal trade commission, in the most recent year, consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud and scams, an increase of more than 70 per cent over the previous year. And the FTC received fraud reports from more than 2.8 million consumers last year.
In this MoneyTalk, we will discuss scams and how to spot scams so that you can avoid becoming a victim of a scam.
So, what does a scam look like?
You’ve just won the lotto! To claim your prize, however, we require some personal information like your bank account information, to make the deposit, and we also need your social security number for tax purposes.
This, right here, is an oversimplification of the way scams work. Scamsters will typically bait innocent people by reaching out via email, phone, or text messages, and will try to extract personal information which they will then use to harm you financially.
Scamsters see themselves as artisans who have mastered their craft. They are experts at what they do and consider scamming people as their full-time profession. Many times, it is not one scamster working, but they have international teams of scamsters working together using sophisticated tools and techniques with a clear goal of scamming you.
While this sounds daunting, you can protect yourself and members of your family from being victims of scams if you’re able to recognize the patterns these fraudsters use.
Let’s discuss some of the ways you can spot a scam way ahead of time.
1. Money is involved
“If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”, we all know this old saying. If people pay attention to the meaning of this saying, then the population of scam victims would be drastically lower. The reality is that most people want to get rich as quickly as possible and with minimal effort. Scammers use this greed to manipulate people which is why so many people fall victim to scams that start with messages such as investing $1,000 and getting a million dollars in return in six months.
Fraudsters usually use greed as bait to lure victims into their trap. At times they may even make deposits into the victim’s account to earn their trust. It’s either they want to help you protect your money or they are simply good samaritans who are trying to help you make more money.
If some stranger ever reaches out to you with a message that they want to help you make more money, earn commissions or if they offer to make a deposit to your bank account, you should immediately become extra cautious and limit your conversation with this person.
2. The power of fear and intimidation
Scammers are Masters of Psychology and as such, they employ techniques that make people bend to their will with minimal resistance. They may at times use fear to manipulate you into doing something you wouldn’t normally do. They could tell you something is wrong with your account, or they could tell your child that he’s going to be arrested for downloading pirated software. They may ask you to fill out a form containing your personal details or pay a fine to make atonement for your crimes.
Similarly, you may receive a call from some 1-800 number and the caller pretending to be an IRS agent. They may even have the background noise of an office to make it seem like they are calling from a real IRS office. They will use threatening language accusing you of not paying the correct amount of taxes and saying that if you pay right away, then they can give you a discount. Or, otherwise, they will have to send law enforcement to your home to arrest you. This is literally black mail under false pretence.
If anyone ever reaches out to you saying that they are calling you from the IRS or any governmental agency or any financial institution, do not continue the conversation with them. Note the name of the agency or institution, hang up the call, then go to their official website, look up their phone number on the website’s contact us section, and then call or email them on their official phone number or email address to check if they indeed meant to contact you. This due diligence may seem time-consuming, but you absolutely should do this to prevent yourself from falling victim to fraud and scams.
3. Creating a sense of immediacy
Fraudsters use the law of scarcity to prompt their victims to action. Fraudsters use this technique because this way victims have less time to think about what they’re doing. They will send messages with words such as urgent! Act now! Don’t wait! Or, sometimes they will insert phrases such as expires tomorrow! Limited supply! Apply now!
In some of these messages, they will ask the victim to go and immediately buy amazon or store gift cards. And, then they will ask the victims to scratch the cards and share the code numbers of those cards. The victims naively share this information not knowing that they are being scammed by these fraudsters and end up losing their money.
Another example is when someone sends a message saying that your computer or phone is infected by a virus and that you need to immediately download software to clean your machine. Fraudsters use such tricks to get you to download malware which they will then use to enslave your computer and record our keystrokes, which they will then decipher and extract your personal details such as credit card numbers.
If anyone ever reaches you with this type of urgency, do not respond back in haste. Take a pause, do your investigation to check the pattern, and immediately cease any further communication with these scammers.
4. Unsolicited messages asking for your personal information
Sometimes, you will receive messages which say that your bank or credit card account has been locked, and you need to provide some private information to unlock the account if you don’t share your information immediately, then your account may be frozen, and you will lose access to your funds.
For the record, no financial institution will ask you for your personal information over an email. And, in most cases, your personal information is more valuable than money. Be careful of such messages and do not ever respond to such messages by providing the information that they have asked.
Additionally, you should also beware of unsolicited messages – those emails or calls that were not triggered by any action from your end. You may see an email from some company about offering you free products or giving you a gift card for taking a 5-minute survey.
Though some companies may reach out of the blue for legitimate reasons, you should verify the email id of the sender or verify by checking online the number that the caller has called you from, before taking any action in response to the call or message.
5. Donate to “Scamity”
Most normal people have lots of empathy and generosity, and scammers know very well how to take advantage of such folks. Many times, these scammers will disguise themselves as charities seeking donations for “noble causes”. They will send you a link in an email or text message which redirects you to a convincing fake site that looks like a real charity website. In the email, they will also have some sort of sob story to invoke feelings of empathy prompting you to donate to the noble cause. Not just online, many scamsters even send snail mail with great-looking envelopes making it look very authentic and asking people to send cash or checks to their address to help support the “noble cause”.
Remember that the best way to donate to a charity is by going directly to charity’s website and proceeding from there. If you’re suspicious of any website; do some research about that website. Or, you may also check the domain name through give.org to determine if the charity is legit or not.
6. Messages from the Nigerian prince
And look out for those emails and texts from someone pretending to be a Nigerian prince or some sort of royalty from some country asking for your help to get his money out of his country in return for a big commission. These scamsters will pretend to be anyone, and in fact, could also pretend to be your friend or relative, who is in his travels and has lost his wallet and is in urgent need of money.
Additionally, they will intentionally send out emails or messages riddled with grammatical/typographical errors. They do this because they’re out to target the most gullible people they can find. Remember that emails from genuine companies rarely contain typos and grammatical errors and even if they were to occur, they would be in isolated situations.
Always be careful of messages from folks claiming to be from some foreign country. There are international gangs working in close coordination with us-based counterparts to scam you and earn money fraudulently.
Let’s summarize what we have discussed today.
There’s no such thing as “being too cautious”. Scamming is a big business run by professional scammers who have international as well as us-based team members. Most of us can naively become victims of these scamsters leading to a huge financial loss as well as emotional distress. In most cases, elderly folks are most susceptible to becoming victims of fraud and scams. However, if one pays close attention to the communication initiated by these scamsters, there are patterns that give clear signs of a possible scam attempt. We should always beware of such messages by carefully reading the content of the message, and never acting in haste on those messages.
Whenever there is any communication from anyone you don’t know, look out for these patterns to ensure you do not fall victim to fraud and scams:
1. Something related to money is involved in the communication
2. The communicator is leveraging the power of fear and intimidation
3. The communicator is creating a sense of immediacy
4. The communicator has sent unsolicited messages asking for your personal information
5. The communicator is tricking you to donate to “Scamity”
6. The communicator has sent messages pretending to be the Nigerian prince or some international traveler
Most importantly, one should never give out their credit card numbers, bank account details, social security numbers, or any personal information to anyone based on a message received via any form of communication such as email, text, phone, or social media. One should always investigate an email before acting on its content. If the initiator has shared any number to call back, never call them or initiate any further communication with them. If you communicate back with them, they get an inkling that you are interested in their offer, and this will trigger their attention to focus on you for the scam.
And, if you ever receive any such suspicious communication, or, if you, unfortunately, fall victim to a scam, you should contact law enforcement so that they can pursue these criminals.
We hope that this MoneyTalk has given you an idea of how to spot possible scam attempts and how you can avoid becoming a victim of scams.