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We see it too often on the nightly news – those reports of phone, mail and internet fraud that leave us shaking our heads in dismay (more than 2 million fraud-related complaints were reported last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission). We all think that we would never fall for such deception. But in truth, it can happen to anyone. Becoming a victim has little to do with socio-economic status, education or IQ and more to do with how influenced we are by persuasion. And, when a criminal finds someone they can easily dupe, they will come at that person again and again (even selling the name to other con artists).
Becoming scam-proof takes informed awareness and a healthy dose of skepticism. The majority of folks who successfully avoid fraud disregard all attempts without a second thought. Those who give it time and attention are more likely to get caught up in the lie – especially if the presentation is well-crafted and plays on the person’s emotions.
The top scams haven’t changed much over time, either. They all share a few underlying themes. If you are presented with any of the following situations, be cautious – it’s probably a scam:
- Anything that’s “too good to be true”
- “You’ve just won a fabulous prize, but to get it you must send money”
- “I’ve written you a check for more than the purchase price and now I need you to wire back the difference”
- “I’ll play on your emotions, pretend I’m somebody I’m not or gain your trust, then give you a sob story about why I need your money”
- “I’m an official from an official agency and you owe us money”
- “I’m a business without an actual street address or a direct phone number, but I seem real because I’ve just sent you a bunch of professional-looking documents to sign”
Regardless of who is contacting you or how or why, stick to these 5 simple rules to protect yourself from online scams:
- Never give personal information to someone you don’t know. Legitimate businesses never ask for sensitive info through insecure channels like email. If someone calls and requests info, decline, hang up, locate a registered phone number and call to investigate.
- Never gamble on offers that seem too good to be true.
- Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
- Never click on suspicious-looking links from questionable email addresses or strangers.
- Understand all business agreements before you enter into them – read all of the terms and conditions, and do not sign any paperwork until you agree with everything presented.
Each of us has a little inner voice that tells us when something’s not right. Often times, the main difference between someone who gets conned and someone who doesn’t is whether or not they listen to that inner voice. If something smells fishy, if even one tiny hair stands on end or if your gut tells you that something is off, listen. Your instinct is trying to tell you something.