Millions of people in this country and in other countries around the world find themselves defrauded by scam artists each year. Fraudsters use any means at their disposal to scam people, including the telephone, postal mail, email and the internet. Scammers attempt to trick their victims into divulging their personal information, or into sending them money directly. Luckily, there are things that you can do to stop a scam, and there are things you specifically shouldn’t do as well.
What Are Scams?
A scam can be any type of fraudulent scheme that is designed to get people to part with their money and/or personal details. Scams have existed about as long as people have existed as well. However, where they were once conducted face to face by shady salespeople and car dealers, they are now everywhere.
Today, the majority of scams are conducted through digital technology. These include text messages, online banking systems, emails and various online transactions. Fraud is becoming increasingly sophisticated, which is why victims are not necessarily people who are naive. In fact, anybody can be caught out by any type of scam, which is why they always continue to exist.
Sometimes, scams are very obvious and clear. The Nigerian 419 letter, for instance, essentially tells you that there are millions waiting for you in some way and that you can access it simply by paying a few fees up front. As obvious as this scam may be, it is presented in various packages and people have lost thousands of dollars, and some even their life, to this particular scam. And, unfortunately, many scams are much less obvious as well.
Here are the tips on how to avoid them:
1. Who Are You Speaking to or Dealing With?
When someone is trying to sell you something, regardless of how they try to do that, you must find out their physical address. If it is a PO Box, you should avoid entering in a transaction. Do also try to find out their telephone number. In this age of digital and online communication, it can be very difficult to know where someone you are dealing with is located. Do also check out the company online. Look for reviews on the company as well, but be suspicious: it is very easy to post fake reviews as well. You have to use common sense and be incredibly vigilant when it comes to deciding whether or not to accept an ‘offer’.
2. Wiring Money and Sending Cash Is Basically the Same Thing
In many cases, a scammer will try to convince you to wire money to them, usually overseas. This is because reversing a wired money transaction is almost impossible. Similarly, tracing the money is pretty much hopeless. You should never send money to someone you don’t know and always avoid sellers who try to convince you to wire money. Do also be very careful of people who pose as a relative of someone you know and who are asking for money to cover some sort of emergency in secret.
3. Check Your Monthly Statements
Too many people never check their bank or other financial statements, whether they receive them by post or by email. This is something that many scammers count on, and they will commit crimes in your name, run up charges or even slowly empty out your account. Then, there are those who con you by encouraging you to willingly make payments. For instance, they may charge you a monthly ‘membership fee’. If you spot any of those on your statement, and it isn’t exactly clear what the fee is for, you must immediately contact your bank or the provider of the financial product and look into it.
4. Only Give to Established Charities After a Disaster
Whenever any type of disaster takes place, scammers try to defraud people out of their money by preying on their goodwill. Unfortunately, this means you should only give to established charities. This also means that you should not make a decision about making a donation immediately, but you should instead spend some time looking into the charity, where they have come from and how efficient they are. Sadly, charity fraud is a very common type of fraud.
5. Always Speak to Your Physician Before You Purchase Health Products
Another very common type of fraud is in health products, including prescription drugs. You must always check out whether the claims made by the product are real. Find out what type of side effects are associated with the product as well. There is no health product on this planet that does not have some sort of side effect. If the product is a prescription drug, you should only purchase it from a licensed pharmacy in this country that wants to see your prescription. There is a huge risk of purchasing counterfeit drugs online, which have the potential to be very dangerous.
6. No Risk Investing or Sure Things Do Not Exist
If you find that someone promises you a high return investment with low risk opportunities, you need to turn the other way. Similarly, any pitch that says you will miss out on big profits if you don’t act immediately are likely to be scams. The real key to watch out for, however, is that they say there is almost no financial risk. If this is ever said to you, you must report the issue to the FTC immediately.
7. Never Send Money to Strangers
This should really go without saying, but the reality is that many people still make this mistake. If you have never heard of a seller, a relative, a love interest or a charity, for example, you should simply not send them money. You have to make sure that you know who you are sending money to. The exception is in online auctions, where you will obviously not know the seller. However, you must then go through an auction website that has some sort of buyer protection in place for you.
Sometimes, you will spot a deal online that looks really good and genuine, but you don’t know the seller. In this case, you need to check the company or the deal. You can also do a Google search on the product name or company, adding keywords such as ‘scam’, ‘complaint’ or ‘review’. And make sure you look at a few results pages.
8. Be Careful with Your Money
A common scam is to make you believe that if you pay some sort of fee now, you will receive a big pay-off at a later stage. This pay-off could be anything from a job to a loan, a prize or a grant. Similarly, you should never agree to deposit a check into your account and then wiring the money back.
The law states that if a check is deposited with a bank, they have to make sure these funds are available within just a few days. However, it can take many weeks to figure out that a check is actually fake. Depositing a check is like a relationship of trust. The bank trusts that the check is real and pays you the money while they look into the check. If it is then found to be fake, you have to pay the bank back. If you ever hear a story where the end result is that you should put a check into your bank account, it is likely that you are dealing with a scam artist, no matter how convincing the story may be.
9. Do Not Send Out Financial or Personal Information
If you receive a message asking for your personal or financial information, you should not share that information. You could receive this message through an advertisement, a text message, a telephone call or an email. Regardless, you should ignore it. Make sure you don’t call a phone number that is included in these messages and don’t click on any links either. This type of scam is known as phishing. Phishing messages are elaborate ploys to get you to reveal personal and sensitive information. This will often be used to commit identity theft. If you have any concerns about your financial accounts after you have received a phishing message, contact your banks and other financial providers straight away.
10. Never Play in a Foreign Lottery
Participating in a foreign lottery is actually illegal. So, if you receive a message that asks you to take part, or a message that says you have already won, you are facing a scam. These scams are very tempting, however, since they promise big money and often talk about lotteries that you can check out online and see that they really exist. If you were to respond to these messages, you will usually have to pay an increasing amount of ‘fees’ and ‘taxes’, which will continue until you decide to send no more money. It is almost impossible to ever get this money back.
If you believe that you have been the victim of a scam, there are a few things you must do:
- Lodge an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. For those outside of this country can file their complaint with econsumer.gov.
- Have a look at the information provided by the FTC on identity theft, which also includes hints and tips to help you lower the risk of falling victim to this.
- Report any scams you spot to your state Attorney General.
- Forward any unsolicited email offers or any other type of spam to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Take any mail about foreign lotteries to your local postmaster, who will take further action.