There are scams everywhere: online/email, phone calls or texts, and even face-to-face. Scams continue to proliferate because people keep falling for them. They are profitable, and so they are not likely to go away anytime soon.
You can’t stop scams from happening altogether. However, you can at least make sure that you don’t become a victim of one. There are a variety of scams out there that are different in their details. But there are some basics to keep in mind that can help you to keep yourself safe from all kinds of scams.
photo by fizkes, courtesy of shutterstock.com
Email & Online Scams
Scammers thrive on the internet, thanks mostly to its anonymity. In particular, email has made it very convenient for “Nigerian princes” to ask for your help to get millions of dollars to America, or to inform you about that sweepstakes you supposedly won. All you have to do is give them your banking information, Social Security Number, etc.
Even if you now know better than to fall for these old school scams (hopefully), email scammers, or “phishers,” are nothing if not adaptable. Next to the clumsier efforts mentioned above, there are other more sophisticated approaches like legitimate-seeming communications from the bank, your boss, or the government. However, the links in such emails could actually lead to spoofed websites that steal your log-in information or load malware onto your computer.
To avoid becoming a victim of 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 or overly urgent language.
- Contact the supposed sender directly to verify the legitimacy of the email.
If you do happen to click on a link in a suspicious-looking email, you may end up on what looks like a legitimate website. But a closer look could reveal you’re 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, and vice versa.
That phone number calling or texting might look familiar. 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 they look like they’re local to you.
These phone calls or texts are out for much the same thing as a phishing email: money. Or information they can use to get them money. They may 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 information 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 first with a reverse phone lookup. Such a tool can help to reveal the actual owner behind the number.
It if turns out that the caller or texter is someone you recognize, that’s great. Otherwise, if it turns out that the number is a scam, you just kept yourself from becoming a victim.
In-person scams aren’t as common as online 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 real charity and that the person you’re talking to is a real representative of that charity. 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. Then, contact the charity directly to confirm that the person you’re talking to really works for them.
Basically, no matter the source, when it comes to recognizing any scam and steering clear of it, you should always approach new or unknown contacts with caution. Don’t 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.
What does all of this mean? You don’t have to feel paranoid that everyone is out to get you. Nor do you have to be cynical. But you should be smart and able to use your common sense.