Anybody can fall victim to an online scam. We all lead busy lives and we are continually bombarded with “approaches” from scammers – it only takes a moment of inattention to fall into a trap, according to www.thebalance.com.
How can you stay safe, when thieves are becoming increasingly sophisticated and convincing? The best thing to do is to pause before sending money and investigate where it is really going. Knowing about common warning signs of money scams can help you spot trouble before it is too late.
If you see any of the red flags listed below, proceed with extreme caution. They don’t necessarily mean you are dealing with a scammer, but it is worth slowing down before you part with your money. Here are the common signs of money scams.
If somebody asks you to wire money, be careful. There is no way to reverse a wire transfer – once the money leaves your account, it is gone, and you can’t ask the bank to “undo” the transfer. Thieves love wire transfers because the money is available for withdrawal almost immediately (before everybody figures out what they are up to).
There are a few legitimate situations where wire transfers make sense, but they are a bad idea if you are not sure who you are dealing with. Using your credit card to send the wire only makes things worse.
Unsolicited approaches for money
It is not uncommon to get an email promising vast sums of money (or even a few bucks) for little or no effort. Sometimes these messages look like they were sent to you accidentally – and you have somehow had the good luck to stumble into a fantastic situation.
If something sounds too good to be true and it is coming from somebody you don’t know, it is almost certainly a scam. Why would that imprisoned prince search you out and contact you? If somebody has a great “business opportunity,” why don’t they just do it themselves instead of wasting time and money scouring the Internet for more investors?
Selling for anything besides cash
If you are selling something that you have advertised online, be wary of accepting anything but cash as payment. Scammers have various ways to cheat you out of money (when you’re supposed to be the one collecting money).
For example, they would try the classic cashier’s cheque scam or they would ask for your bank account information under the pretext of sending an electronic payment or wire transfer (then they would use that information to get into your bank account). If a buyer can’t show up in-person with cash, there is probably a better buyer out there.
Handling payments for someone else
There is no legitimate reason for you to handle payments for somebody else. If you are asked to deposit money into your account and forward it to somebody else, you are likely involved in a scam. When you are looking for work and these “jobs” come up, it is hard to pass up the opportunity, but moving on is your best bet. At best, you are being set up for a scam; at worst, you are involved with something illegal (such as money laundering).
Threats and hyperbole
Scammers’ goal is to exploit your hopes and fears until you hand over your cash. To take advantage of your fears, they might tell you that you would go to jail, lose your job, or somehow face humiliation if you fail to make “required” payments (none of which they can accomplish legally). If something sounds all bad or all good, you’re not hearing the truth.
Look for the lock (or “https” in the address bar) when doing anything sensitive online. If you provide personal or financial information to an unsecure site, it can be stolen easily – in fact, it probably is being stolen because you’re already at an impostor’s site. Any reputable bank, credit union, or online shopping site will require a secure connection.
If your connection is not secure, you might be caught in a so-called “man in the middle” attack, in which your usernames and passwords are collected for later use.
Emails that look not quite right
Sometimes you can find everything you need to know in an email. If you notice bad spelling and grammar, you might be dealing with an overseas phishing scam (a type of fraud where a user’s personal data, such as passwords and credit card info, is stolen through an electronic communication like email). It also helps to look closely at any links (when you hover your mouse over them before clicking). Do they go where you think they should go?
How to handle online scams
If you see any of the warning signs above – but you still want to move forward – how can you do so safely? Get more information. Research the person or business in question until you are 100 per cent certain that you’re not getting ripped off. Just remember that scammers can be very convincing and very patient – they would talk with you for hours (over many weeks or months) to make you feel comfortable.
Talk about the situation with a friend or relative, and look for similar stories online – you might be surprised at what you find. Check message boards in your community if it seems like a local thing, but keep in mind that many internet money scams are tried-and-true hustles, sometimes conducted from far away (so you’re likely to find good information with a general internet search)