Scammers are constantly finding new and innovative ways to steal money or trick you out of sensitive information. They frequently utilize technology both to contact you and to hide their lies, making it even more difficult for those who aren’t as technologically savvy to spot the deception. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some red flags to help you spot possible scams and some general tips to avoid them.
You have to make a decision immediately. Scammers will try to use stress and emotion against you, insisting that the issue is time sensitive and you have to make a choice NOW. Common examples include claiming that a family member has been injured or arrested, or that you will be arrested, unless you pay them immediately.
They ask for sensitive information in electronic communications. Financial institutions will never ask for sensitive information, like your Social Security Number, via email or text message. If you receive an unsolicited communication asking for sensitive, personal information, be wary.
Insisting on non-secure payment methods. Scammers regularly insist on non-secure payment methods which are difficult to track. Probably the most famous is via wire transfer, like Western Union, but they also use more unusual methods such as gift cards. Some may also ask you to cash a check for a large sum of money and keep a cut for yourself, rather than them paying you directly.
The deal seems too good to be true. This is common for online shopping or job hunting, especially on less regulated sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. You see a listing for an item priced well under market value, or a job that pays extremely well for seemingly little effort. Likely when you contact the poster, you will be asked to provide money or personal information up front in order to move forward.
They use poor grammar and have spelling errors. Errors like this can be blatant, like a plain looking email that looks like the text was written using a bad translation service. They can also be more subtle, such as using graphics and logos that appear professional, but the company name is slightly misspelled. So, if you notice spelling issues or that the sentence structure just seems weird, it could be a scam.
The contact details don’t match up. Scammers often use emails and messaging that look legitimate, but might forget to fake their email address. If you get an official looking email from an email address that seems odd or out of place, it could be a scam. An example would be an email that appears to be from your bank, asking for you to verify your account information, but the sender’s email address is from a generic email service, like Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail.
They change the terms after you’ve expressed interest. This is a common method in classifieds, whether you’re shopping around on Craigslist or hunting for a new job. It might be that you’re looking at a used car marketed as being in your city for a great price, but when you reach out, they say the car is actually in another state and will have to be transported. Or you find a job listing for an office assistant, but upon contacting the employer, they say the position is no longer available, but they are looking for a personal assistant to pick-up and deliver mail and for cash payments. This scenario often goes hand in hand with the “too good to be true” deals and are a good indicator that the listing is fraudulent.
They use generic or stolen pictures. Because they don’t actually have the item they are trying to “sell”, scammers frequently use generic photos easily found online or stolen for other websites. Are they selling a used car, but posted a picture that looks straight out of a car commercial? Are they re-selling an item like clothing or collectibles, but only use the original product photos from the brand’s website and marketing? Those can be good indicators that the listing is a scam.
Don’t rush. Even though scammers frequently use pressure and emotional manipulation to try and get you to make a decision, it is important to take time to think things through. Any deals or offers that are legitimate should still be valid the next day.
Research it. If anything feels suspicious or too good to be true, look into it. Use your own resources to verify information. Scammers may try to have you call a number or visit a website they have set up, so use a third-party option, like 411 or an online search, to confirm the validity of the claims.
Remember that it’s okay to say no. If you aren’t sure if you’ve gotten a legitimate request, you can always err on the side of caution and say no. You’re not obligated to share your personal information or follow the person’s instructions. Saying no allows you to take the time to think through the details of the situation and research it on your own to be sure it’s safe.
Report it. Many law enforcement agencies take fraud and scam reports and have officers available to answer non-emergency questions over the phone or in person. Call your local law enforcement non-emergency phone number for more information about options available to you locally.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has a dedicated website for learning about and reporting fraud and scams. They use information submitted in reports to help stop scammers and keep people informed of current scams making the rounds. To report a scam to the FTC, visit FTC.gov/complaint or call 1-877-382-4357. You can also sign up to receive alerts about new scams by visiting https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts.
Practice your scam spotting skills. The Australian organization Scamwatch provides examples of scam texts, emails, and websites with explanations about why each example is suspicious and where to spot indicators of a scam. To test your knowledge, and maybe learn a few extra tips, visit their site here.