Photo by Andrey Sayfutdinov, courtesy of shutterstock.com
You can find scams everywhere: online and email, by phone or text, and even face-to-face. Scams continue to proliferate because people keep falling for them. So, they remain profitable for scammers. For that, scams are not likely to go away anytime soon.
You may not be able to stop scams from happening. But you can at least make sure that you don’t fall victim to one. There are a variety of scams out there that are different when it comes to the details. But there are some basics to keep in mind that can help you to keep yourself safe from most scams.
Email & Website Scams
The internet’s anonymity has made it a scammer haven. In particular, email has made it even more convenient for “African princes” to ask for your help to get millions of dollars to America, or to tell you about that sweepstakes you supposedly won. All you have to do is give them your banking information, Social Security Number, etc.
Hopefully, you know better than to fall for these old school scams. But email scammers (aka “phishers”) are nothing if not adaptable. Next to the clumsier efforts mentioned above, there are other more sophisticated approaches like official-looking communications from your bank, your boss, or the government. However, the links in such emails may actually lead to spoofed websites or load malware onto your computer.
To avoid falling victim to email phishing scams:
- Don’t click on anything or reply to the email.
- Hover your cursor over links to see if they go to legitimate websites.
- Verify the sender’s email.
- Note the tone and grammar of the email itself for errors.
- Contact the supposed sender directly to verify the legitimacy of the email.
Say you do happen to click on a link in a suspicious-looking email, and you end up on what looks like a legitimate website. But take a closer look. You may be on a spoofed website, one that may look official but is actually just a copy intended to trick you into entering log-in or other private information.
As with email, look for subtle errors when it comes to color, logos, or content. And check for a padlock icon next to the URL in the main search bar. Its presence shows that the site is secure, while its absence indicates the opposite.
Photo by ronstik, courtesy of shutterstock.com
Phone Call & Texting Scams
That phone number calling or texting might look familiar. But are you sure it’s really someone you want to communicate with? Yes, it could be someone you know or a company with which you do business. Or it could be a scammer. These days, scammers have the ability to spoof phone numbers and text numbers. That way, they could be calling or texting from all the way across the country but look like they’re local to you.
Such phone calls or texts are out for much the same thing as a phishing email. Scammers want money or information they can use to get them money. They will try to get valuable personal or business information from you directly. Or they could trick you into giving them access to your device or network, where they can get the information or money themselves.
If you are unsure, do not answer a call or respond to a text right away. Try to verify the legitimacy of an unknown phone number with a reverse phone lookup. Such a tool can reveal the actual owner behind the number.
It if turns out that the caller or texter is someone you recognize, great! Otherwise, if it turns out that the number is a scam, you can report the number to the FCC or to any number of phone scam report sites to try and stop them.
In-person scams aren’t as common as electronic scams these days, but they do still happen. In-person scammers are confident—they aren’t afraid to look you in the eye—and they set out to confuse you and pressure you with fast, persuasive talk. They use things like natural disasters, homeless children, or abused animals to play off your emotions and take your money.
Before you provide any payment info, make sure you’re giving to a legitimate charity and that the person you’re talking to is a real representative of that charity. For the former, there are several charity watchdog sites online; just look up the charity name to find out if it’s real and effective in its mission. For the latter, contact the charity directly to confirm that the person you’re talking to really works for them.
Basically, when it comes to recognizing a scam and steering clear of it, you should always approach any new or unknown contacts with a healthy bit of caution. This doesn’t mean that you have to feel paranoid that everyone is out to get you. Nor do you have to be cynical. But you should be smart.
Don’t ever let anyone pressure you into giving information or money. Take the time to perform any due diligence you need to feel confident and comfortable that you’re dealing with legitimate people or companies. Information is your greatest weapon against scammers, and it can help you to protect your hard-earned money and privacy.