Scam Ahead! Proceed with Caution.
(And Alert Friends and Family)
There's a new twist on an old adage "let the buyer beware" for the computer age. It's now "let the Internet browser beware." That's because the most likely threat to our online activity doesn't come from a hacker (some trying to break into a computer network); it comes from a scam artist trying to trick us, our friends and our family into giving away our money, or our financial and personal information.
Now, maybe you're too smart to fall for any of these scams, but that doesn't mean a friend or family member is safe. You need to make sure they're aware of the scams that are the most common and affect hundreds of thousands of people.
Every day hundreds of decent people get scammed out of their money. It's not totally their fault. They may be trusting souls, eager to help, or hurting for money and vulnerable. That's why they need to be alerted to and prepared for online scams.
The Online Con Artist
Behind every scam is con artist whose goal it is to trick people into doing a variety of things:
- Invest money into some venture
- Give up their account username and password
- Donate money for a worthy, timely cause
- Loan money to an individual in trouble (for a reward)
Again, tell your friends, children and family members NOT to give money to an individual or organizations they have were introduced to online. Let them know it is better to do some research—or better yet talk to a friend first—before they decide to hand over money.
These are the most popular scams you should alert your friends to:
- Disaster relief scams. Right after natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods) fraudulent organizations will send out emails to people asking for donations. It's easy to fall for this scam because we want to help others in distress. But con artists are behind many charity scams. And if they get ahold of someone's credit card number, they can run up huge charges fast.
- "Nigerian" scams. You receive a letter from someone in a foreign country (it seems so sincere) that needs your help desperately. They have a lot of money that's locked up in red tape. If you can help them pay some fees, they will gladly reward you with a lot of money. Yes...people fall for this and send money!
- "You won!" lottery scam. Many people (okay, all people) dream of winning millions of dollars instantly in a legal lottery. Scammers know that and use it to their advantage. They send out emails letting recipients know they've won the big prize, and to get it all they have to do is send the required processing fee. When someone sends their money, they soon find out the millions they "won" never comes, and never existed.
- Phony bank alerts. This is a very smart and dangerous con because it seems so real and offers to protect us. An unsuspecting person gets an email from their bank (they think) that says they must update their account information immediately to protect themselves against fraudulent activity. The bank logo and everything is there on the email. But it's not from the bank at all; instead it comes directly from a scam artist. And if someone replies to the email with their account information, the scammer will likely drain the account of money.
- Chain email scams. This scam moved from ordinary U.S. mail to the Internet. An email tells you that if you give $5 to the email sender, and then forward the email to friends, you will soon be making a lot of money. Thousands of people get this same email and send their $5. Then they wait and wait for thousands of dollars that never come. The scammer is the only one who makes all the money.
- Romance scams. This "lonely lover" scam is born from the huge explosion in online dating. A woman meets a guy through an online dating service and thinks she's in love. The man sounds honest in his emails, his picture looks nice...and in a short while he needs some cash for some emergency. How can this new girlfriend say no? She doesn't, and soon lover boy is long gone and so, sadly, is his girl's cash.
The best advice to stay safe.
Pass along the advice in this article to your loved ones. Let them know that simply talking to another person about a suspicious email may be all it takes to avoid being scammed online. Also give them these three simple rules to follow:
- Never give out bank account information in reply to an email. (Banks will never ask for it!)
- Never hand over money with the hope of making more money. (If it sounds to good to be true, it is.)
- Don't donate money to a cause by giving your credit card information online unless your 100% sure it's a legitimate cause or website. Do your homework.