Have you ever been a scam victim? If yes, it does not matter if you lost a few dollars or a lot of dollars, the end result is that you end up feeling angry that con artists have scammed you and you also end up feeling foolish because you actually fell for the scam. If the answer is no, then you are ahead of the game. Find out about some of the most common cons being carried out by scammers online so you can protect yourself from harm for good, or from becoming a scam victim all over again.
Receiving emails stating a “special delivery” awaits your response.
These emails tell you that FedEx, UPS, or the US Postal Service has a special delivery for you. All you have to do is click on an embedded link that will tell you all the juicy details of a gift you supposedly have won. The con is in the embedded link the scammers want you to click on. If you click on the link, you will have malware delivered to your computer, and you will not receive any gift.
To protect yourself against this type of scam, look at the email. Oftentimes, the emails lack your name, a tracking number, or other specifics. These emails also are delivered through a free email service like Yahoo or Gmail instead of a company specific (companyname.com) email address. If you are unsure as to whether an email of this type is legitimate, you can type in the courier company’s website address yourself to authenticate it.
You can also get malware delivered to your computer if you click on links to items at bargain prices either advertised on social media or through search engine results when you type in the name of the latest hot gift idea. In addition, you should also beware of “copycat” sites that copy the domain name of well known retailers or brands. These sites are designed to steal your credit card information and/or sell you counterfeit merchandise. Don’t be surprised if you don’t receive any items at all from these sites.
To protect yourself from this type of scam, carefully read the website address. Look for misspellings such as extra letters or words in common names (BesstBargainsOnSale.com), or any extension besides the usual “.com” or “.net”. To find out who is the owner of a website, you can go to the website WhoIs.net. If the ownership information is hidden, do not buy anything from that website (when in doubt, leave it out). Another way of verifying if a website page is legitimate is for entering your credit card information is by looking for the “https://” at the beginning of the website address. If there is no “s” on a retailer’s page that asks you to enter your credit card information, do not enter it. The “s” means that the page is secure.
During the holiday season or after natural disasters (ex. Hurricane Katrina) or catastrophic events (ex. 9/11), charities are set up to help those in need. Unfortunately, con artists feel that in situations like these the time is ripe to scam people out of their money under the guise of helping those in need–homeless families, disabled veterans, the police, and firefighters. They do this by setting up websites for a fictitious charity supposedly to help those in need. Any money received through these sites goes into the scammer’s pocket; nothing goes to any needy person(s) or charity organization.
If you want to help those in need by donating money to a charity( and that is always a good thing to do), you have to do all you can by making sure your donation actually gets to the people it is supposed to help. To protect yourself, do the following:
- Disregard all email solicitations, unless you previously donated to that charity.
- Watch out for imitative words, such as “National” being substituted for “American” in a well-known name.
- Phone solicitations–do not provide your credit card information unless you initiated the call.
- Before giving donations, check out an charity organization’s legitimacy by going to CharityNavigator.org, Give.org or your state’s agency that regulates charities(find it at NASCOnet.org)
Freebie gifts or prizes; e-card greetings
Ignore emails that promise free merchandise or gifts. Most often, scammers use the free merchandise as a means to either install malware on your computer or “phish” for sensitive information. Make sure that the website offering the free gift is from a trusted well-known retailer.
Another popular scam is the promise of a free vacation, especially during the wintertime. More often than not, the promise of a free vacation is nothing more than bait to get you to join an expensive vacation club or time share that will pressure you to give them your credit card number for a “deposit”.
This happened to me several years ago. I came across a newspaper ad promising a free vacation to the Bahamas. They sent tickets for overnight hotel stay in Atlantic City. My friend and I went because I wanted the free vacation to the Bahamas. We got to the hotel, spent the night, and the next day, we had to go to a conference room at one of the casino hotels to hear a presentation. This 2 hour presentation was about joining a time share, which I had no interest in joining. The worst part about the whole experience is that the representatives used very hard pressure sales tactics to get us to join. They did a credit check on both my friend and myself and decided to go after me because I had better credit. They did not want to take “no” for an answer. Eventually I just had to get up and walk out and not look back. Lesson learned–if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. There is almost always a catch.
Computer repair “technicians”–a personal experience
One day I received a phone call from a person identifying himself as a Microsoft computer technician notifying me that my computer software needed to be updated. He said that if I did not get this update, my computer would eventually stop working. Not knowing any better, I believed what the technician was telling me. Therefore, I allowed him to access my computer remotely, and he installed some Microsoft security software (which I later found out that this same software is available as a free download from Microsoft’s website). The con came when he asked me for my credit card information and also for me to open up a Western Union account so he could charge my credit card and receive payment through Western Union. I did as he requested. The next thing I knew, (he was still remotely connected to my computer so I could see what he was doing) he was just charging increments of $100 to my credit card. He also was setting up different Western Union accounts using variations of my name.
I think he realized I was onto him when I kept moving the cursor around preventing him from continuing to steal money from me. He then promptly logged himself off my computer. This scammer was probably from India because the money was being converted from dollars to rupees. I called the customer service number he gave me to complain, but of course no one picked up.
The total charge on my credit card was $300. I notified the bank that issued the credit card about the fraud. They canceled the card and reissued me a new card and conducted an investigation. I still had to pay the $300. I also filed a complaint with my state’s Attorney General’s office. I missed some “red flags” that should have made me suspect that this was a scam.
#1: Unsolicited phone calls. Microsoft computer technicians do not call people out of the blue offering to update software or repair their computers. If you receive a call like this, hang up. You can call Microsoft yourself to ask if this is a standard practice.
#2: Asking for payment through Western Union. I don’t know why, but it seems that many overseas scammers like to receive their stolen money through Western Union. Almost all legitimate retailers and businesses do not ask their customers to send money through Western Union.
It is my sincere hope that I have helped you become aware of some of the most common scams being conducted by con artists. The best way to protect yourself and others from becoming victims is through education and spreading the word. You can also report to the authorities if you become a scam victim. The worst thing you can do is not report it due to embarrassment. By not reporting it, you will allow the scammer to continue to scam others.
If you are aware of any other kinds of scams (online or by phone) being performed or have any questions/comments, I would love for you to enter your comments in the field below.
Source: “Season’s Cheatings” by Sal Kirchheimer. AARP Bulletin/Real Possibilities, December 2015, Vol.56, No. 10, pg. 28.