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New fraud schemes are created every morning. At the same time, yesterday’s scams are recycled. Online scams are omnipresent. Yet, if we know how, we can quickly recognize and avoid them.  

Scams are effective because fraudsters create a storyline that draws victims in and causes a potential victim to overlook obvious red flags. Great bargains and urgent requests manipulate people into acting quickly. Messages falsely claim that hesitation will mean the loss of a great opportunity or cause a tragedy. Well-rehearsed scammers appear trustworthy. These professional con artists perfect their craft to trick potential victims into responding to emails or phone requests.

Scams for you to know about

  • Online sales scams – A targeted buyer negotiates a price for a product or service, off-channel from a reputable sales or auction site. The seller requests payment through a wire transfer, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. After payment is received, the scammer never delivers the product because the sales posting was fake.
  • Phony checks/overpayment scams – A seller sets up an online sale of a product. The buyer shows interest and sends a counterfeit check or wire transfer for an amount higher than the asking price. Next, the scammer gives a fake reason for the overpayment, and asks the buyer to cash the check and return the excess funds through a wire transfer, minus a fee to the buyer for inconvenience or shipping costs. Of course, the seller’s initial overpayment check is returned to the victim’s bank unpaid because it was either counterfeit or stolen. Rarely, are the funds recovered.
  • Lottery/Sweepstakes scams – The criminal informs the potential victim by email, phone, fax or mail, that they are a multimillion-dollar lottery or sweepstakes winner. They are told to pay an upfront fee or tax to claim their prize. But the money paid by the winner is lost as there is no prize money, and the criminal quickly cuts off communication.
  • Romance scams – A scammer lurks on dating sites or social media with the goal of initiating a fake relationship to establish rapport and extort money. Soon, the scammer asks the potential victim for money for travel expenses for a meeting that never happens. The scammer will come up with creative requests for money as long as the victim is willing to send money. Hundreds or thousands of dollars later, the victim realizes they were talking to a scammer, not a romantic partner
  • Tech support – The scammer tricks the victim to access the victim’s computer or convince the victim to download malware or give out their credentials. The scammer, pretending to be from tech support, attempts to persuade the victim to provide their credit card number to purchase something, often fake software or antivirus protection. The credit card is charged, but no computer support is provided or is even needed. The scammer may also now have access to the victim’s computer or email account.

Fraud Protection Tips

  • Become educated — Read about online scams and be aware of tactics that are off-limits. You can find more tips at FBI Scams and Safety.
  • Never send a wire transfer to someone you do not know. Use established online payment sites that protect your purchase and payment.
  • Communicate via the online platform hosting the sale — Don’t go offsite at the suggestion of a seller or buyer.
  • Be skeptical — Scammers send unsolicited checks, payments with incorrect amounts and lottery winning notices. It is easy to deposit a fake check in your account which will appear legit for a time, but in the end, it will not clear because the funds are not in place.
  • Trust your instincts —Pay attention when something is off.
  • Be stingy with personal information — Don’t overshare on networking sites, websites and social media.

Scams can be perpetrated in person, online and via phone, email and text. Security-aware people are discreet with information. To defend your finances and information, use common sense, caution and follow these fraud protection tips.