If you use a cellphone or have an email account, you’ve likely been exposed to an attempted scam.
- “I’m a deposed prince. Can you help me out?”
- “This is the opportunity of a lifetime...”
- “Congratulations! You’ve won the grand prize!”
- “I’m collecting donations on behalf of...”
Types of scams
Familiarizing yourself with common scams can help you spot them before they turn into costly mistakes.
- The setup: A wealthy person asks the target for help with the transfer of a large sum of money, or an estate lawyer notifies the target of a large inheritance from a distant relative
- The swindle: The target is required to pay fees, write a check or provide bank account access in order to complete the transfer of funds; the target never receives the money
- The setup: The target is notified that they’ve won a lottery, a contest, a sweepstakes or some other prize giveaway
- The swindle: In order to claim the (invented) prize, the target is instructed to pay a lottery tax or provide personal information
- The setup: The target comes across a tempting online listing for a premium item at an extremely low price
- The swindle: Scammers collect the payment but never deliver on the product; multiple accounts and fake reviews are used to disguise their deceptive practices
- The setup: The target is contacted by a charitable organization and asked to make a donation
- The swindle: Scammers pose as existing charities or invent fake ones and then pocket the donations
- The setup: The target is charmed by a new online sweetheart and develops an emotional bond with them
- The swindle: The new sweetheart is actually a scammer; once the relationship has developed, the scammer asks for expensive gifts, travel or cash
- The setup: A job placement service offers to find a position for an unemployed target, or the target is approached by a businessperson with an investment opportunity
- The swindle: The scammer collects placement fees for their fraudulent job placement service, or takes off with the target’s investment money
Threats and extortion
- The setup: The target receives urgent demands for money from a government official or from law enforcement, or the target discovers ransomware on their computer
- The swindle: The scammer poses as an authority figure to scare the target into paying them; the scammer holds computer files hostage to pressure the target into paying them
- The setup: The target is asked to log into their account or confirm their password, or the target is contacted by a friend or relative and asked a series of questions
- The swindle: The scammer impersonates the target’s personal and business contacts in order to gain personal details that can then be resold or used for identity fraud
- Reporting scams
- If you believe you’ve been targeted by a scammer, contact the following:
- Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): www.ic3.gov
- Federal Trade Commission: www.FTC.gov/complaint
Scams are often under-reported because of embarrassment or shame.
- Buy some time: In an emergency, it’s natural to act before you have time to think. It’s no coincidence that many scams are designed to encourage an immediate reaction, before you have a chance to spot any red flags. Allow yourself to take a minute to assess a situation, even if it seems urgent.
- Use the address bar: Get in the habit of visiting websites directly instead of following links contained in emails. It takes only a few extra seconds and helps you be more mindful about your online activity.
- Cross-reference: It’s perfectly reasonable to verify the identity of the person or business you’re in contact with. Use a means outside of the original communication, like doing a separate web search or returning a call through a publicly listed number.