Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.
Here at Mutual Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness, and that includes keeping you and your money safe. To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.
Five red flags of scams
While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:
- They demand detailed information before agreeing to process an application. A favorite ploy among scammers is asking for sensitive, non-public information like your date of birth, Social Security number and login information for online accounts. They will typically do this before processing any application for an alleged product, service or job.
- They insist on a specific method of payment. If an online seller or service provider will only accept payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, you’re likely looking at a scam.
- They send you a check for an inflated amount. Another favorite trick among scammers is to overpay a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to return the extra money. In a few days’ time, when the original, inflated check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been conned but it’s too late to get back the “extra” money they returned.
- You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents. A scammer representing a bogus business can easily be uncovered by doing a quick online search about the “company.”
- You’re pressured to act now. Scammers are always in a rush to complete their ruse before you catch onto their act.
Who are the targets?
Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:
- The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
- The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
- Children. Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.
What do scams look like?
Here are some of the most common scams:
- Cyberhacking. In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
- Phishing scams. Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
- Mystery shopper. A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
- Job offers. Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
- Sweetheart scams. A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
- Fraudulent investments. Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.
10 ways to protect yourself from scams
Keep yourself safe by following these rules:
1. Never share personal information online.
2. Don’t open unsolicited emails or text messages. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
3. Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
4. Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
8. If you have elderly parents who spend time online, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
9. Don’t take the identity of callers at face value, even if your Caller ID verifies their story. If a government agency, utility company or financial institution reaches out to you and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own and then end the call.
10. Never accept a job or agree to pay for a purchase or service without thoroughly researching the company involved.
Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
Once an individual falls prey to a scam, there is very little that can be done to mitigate the loss. Full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking Mutual Credit Union for help.
Your Turn: How do you keep yourself safe from scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments.