Is that a scam artist in your living room? Indeed it is, and he's probably in your cell phone, too. Technology has brought con artists and their tricks of the trade into our everyday lives, making it increasingly difficult to avoid getting duped. The best line of defense is to recognize the scams before they get you. Here are five common scams and ways to avoid becoming a victim.
1. Online Used Goods or Housing Scams – Buyer or Renter Beware
Free sites like Craigslist.com offer an easy forum for buying and selling a variety of used items and renting housing online. However, it's also rife with scams. Not surprisingly, most of the scams involve payments—such as sending you a genuine-looking, but fake cashier's check, often for more than the amount you are asking for with a request to wire the balance back to them. Some of the bait used to lure in unsuspecting shoppers include apartments, laptops, TVs or other high-ticket items.
To avoid online used goods or housing scams:
- Deal locally and meet the seller in person
- Steer clear of any “too-good-to-be-true” deals or ones involving third-party shipping or escrow services
- Never wire funds via a money wire service
2. Email Scams – To Believe or Not to Believe
More than 294 billion emails were sent each day in 2010. That equates to 2.8 million emails sent every second and 90 trillion emails sent per year. Experts say 90% of these emails are spam and virus-laden, and many are scams in a variety of forms. Most email scams attempt to extract sensitive information or money from the victim.
Tips to avoid email scams:
- Be suspicious of any request involving overseas wire transfers
- Request a telephone number (and call it) before disclosing financial information
- If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is
3. Senior Scams – Keep Your Grandparents Safe
Scammers don't discriminate—they will take money from whoever is willing to play along. The target is often the most vulnerable, such as senior citizens who are less adept at protecting their electronic data. Common scams include phishing requests for sensitive information, shady investment schemes and fake Medicare discount cards. Help protect your elders by sharing the following as a first line of defense.
Tips to avoid senior scams:
- Use direct deposit rather than having checks mailed to your home
- Verify the authenticity of any person or company before signing up or disclosing financial information over the phone or Internet—this includes Medicare-approved discount cards
- Assign a power of attorney to a trusted person if you become ill or injured
4. Online Job Scams – This Job Isn't for You
While job searching has gone online, so have online job scams known as payment-forwarding or payment-transfer scams. These schemes target bank accounts by requesting direct payment information from job applicants. A con artist pretends to be an employer, luring applicants with a job ad or resume search. In response, the applicant receives an email requesting the prospective employee sign up for direct deposit by sending their bank details. Since direct deposit is so common, it's a typical request from an employer to the applicant. Or is it? A legitimate employer will offer the option of direct deposit, but not demand that it be used, and they will never ask for your bank details online.
Tips to avoid online job scams:
- Do not give personal bank account, PayPal account or credit card numbers to an employer, especially a new one
- Do not agree to have funds or paychecks deposited directly into any of your accounts by a new employer
- Do not forward, transfer or wire money to an employer
5. Investment Scams – It's Not Your Father IRA Anymore
The Internet has made investing easy—stocks, bonds, research, even free stock advice is common these days as money market accounts have been paying less than 1%. We all want to get more with our money—and we can; however, the Internet has made it tricky to avoid unscrupulous claims and downright scams. Think twice before you invest your money in any opportunity you find online and beware of these common tactics:
- "Pump and dump" stock schemes. First, scammers boost the value of a stock with false statements about the company or product to encourage sales. Then, they dump the stock after they drive up the price
- “Spam" or junk email. Your inbox is an easy target for promoting bogus investment schemes or to spread false information about a company. Spammers can send personalized messages to millions at once for far less than the cost of cold calling or traditional mail.
- Online investment newsletters and bulletin boards. Commonly used as a tool for fraud, online newsletters often just tout a certain stock. While this can be legal if properly disclosed, many make independent claims solely to drive up a stock. Similarly, fraudsters use discussions on online bulletin boards to pump a stock or to pretend to reveal "inside" information, the credibility of which is sketchy at best
Tips to avoid investment scams:
- Don't purchase stock based on so-called “research” or “inside information” from online newsletters or bulletin boards—seek a financial advisor first
- Beware of investor information delivered directly to your inbox (it's usually spam)
- Resist purchasing stock or securities that pressure you to buy today
Scams have been around since people have been on earth. They have a way of finding their way into almost every aspect of society—often in very creative ways. Scam artists and scams aren't going away anytime soon, but with a little education and precaution, we can all help ourselves—and others—from becoming just another statistic.