The Better Business Bureau receives thousands of calls a year from people who’ve been scammed. From spam to junk mail to robocalls, con artists bilk unsuspecting victims out of millions of dollars. Here are ten common scams people have fallen for.
You go to your mailbox and find a letter that says you’ve won X amount of money from a sweepstakes entry (that you most likely didn’t even enter–can you say red flag?). You get very excited–after all, who doesn’t get excited when they’ve been told they’ve won a ton of money. But, there’s a catch. Before you can receive your winnings, you must pay an upfront fee of some sort. You send off the money, but your winnings never arrive.
According to Publishers Clearing House (PCH), sweepstakes in the U.S. do NOT require a purchase or an entry fee to collect your winnings. “If you were contacted by someone claiming to represent Publishers Clearing House, or claiming to be a PCH employee and were asked to send or wire money, send a pre-paid gift card or a Green Dot MoneyPak card, or cash a check and send a portion back to them as payment for any reason to claim a Sweepstakes prize – STOP – You have not heard from the real Publishers Clearing House,” PCH said on its website.
9. IRS Imposters
Someone claiming to be an IRS agent calls you and tells you that you owe taxes and you must pay right away using a specified method of payment. To get you to comply, they tell you that there’s a warrant for your arrest and that the cops will be sent over to arrest you immediately. But, the IRS doesn’t “call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer, demand that you pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe, or threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying,” the agency said on its website.
If you receive a suspicious phone call, the IRS recommends that you first check online to see if, and what amount, you owe. If it’s a scam, report the incident to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
8. Work-From-Home Jobs
We’re not saying that all home-based jobs are scams; in fact, many of them are legitimate. But, there are scammers out there looking to take advantage of people in their time of desperation. Here are the warning signs you should look for:
-They ask you for money. A legitimate employer is not going to ask for money from you. They are supposed to pay YOU.
-The job description should include a detailed list of responsibilities and qualifications.
-The hiring company should have a website, a social media presence, and online reviews.
BOTTOM LINE: Do your research before accepting a job offer.
7. The Nigerian Prince
This is one of the longest-running scams. And, as ridiculous as it may seem, people are still falling for it. Here’s the gist of it: Fraudsters claiming to be government officials or royalty request assistance in transferring money–millions of dollars to be exact–out of Nigeria. They contact their intended victims via email, letter or fax, and promise to pay them for their assistance. Those who agree to help are then asked to either provide personal and financial information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and birth dates, or send money to cover taxes and fees. The victims never see one dime of the money promised to them, and, on top of that, the scammers empty their bank accounts and/or steal their identity.
FUN FACT: A film about this long-running scam was released earlier this year, with Spike Lee as an executive producer.
6. PayPal Phishing
In this type of scam, criminals send out emails that appear to be from PayPal in order to trick you into giving up your personal information. The subject line of the email may read “You’ve got paid” or “You’re account is about to be suspended.” Also, the email greeting may be impersonal. For example, it might say “Dear user” or “Hello PayPal member.” However, the online payment service warns that any emails that come from them will always address the recipient by his or her first and last names or their business name. If you’re still unsure, PayPal recommends logging in to your account and checking your recent activity to make sure everything is alright.
If you’ve ever watched MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, then you know what catfishing is all about. But for those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about, here’s how it works: Con artists set up fake online profiles complete with fake names and fake photos, usually jacked from someone else’s profile. But, this scam isn’t about getting money from people–although it does happen at times. According to research conducted by TheConversation.com, 41 percent of respondents said loneliness was the motivating factor behind their catfishing. “I just wanted to be more popular and make friends that could talk to me, some part of the day,” one respondent said. “I had lots of self-esteem problems … I actually consider myself ugly and unattractive … The only way I have had relationships has been online and with a false identity,” another respondent said.
Online dating website eHarmony.com offers these tips to keep you from getting catfished:
-Google them after you meet them online to verify they are who they claim to be.
-Fake accounts usually don’t have many friends, and the photos they post often look like they belong to a model.
-Don’t tell them too much about yourself.
-Meet up ASAP. This will make it harder for them to lie or keep secrets.
-Don’t rush into anything.
-Trust your gut. Your first instinct is usually right.
-If it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
4. One Ring
If you fall victim to this scam, you’ll end up with a huge phone bill. Scammers call your phone from a number that appears to originate in the U.S. but in fact is an international number. Your phone rings once and then they hang up in an attempt to get you to call them back. When you do call back, you get hit with a connection fee plus hefty per-minute fees if they manage to keep you on the phone. According to the FCC, these fees may show up on your bill as premium services. To avoid this type of scam, the FCC recommends checking unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sometimes scam artists engage in caller ID spoofing. That’s when they falsify caller ID information to hide their identity (sometimes the call appears to be local, a.k.a. “neighbor spoofing”). Bottom line: Even if the number does look legit, don’t answer it and don’t call back. If it’s that important, they’ll leave a message.
3. Fake Holiday Greeting E-Cards
Fake e-card notifications are very common, especially around the holidays. You receive an email telling you that someone sent you a greeting, so you click on the link expecting to see an e-card. Instead, the link installs malware on your computer, giving criminals easy access to your personal and financial information. BEWARE! These scam artists are extra sneaky. They’ve found a way to make these emails look legit, with several of them having a fake “@hallmark.com” address. “Bogus e-cards addressed to government workers were disguised as coming from the White House, with a convincing “@whitehouse.gov” address, AARP said on its website. “The cards included a link to a supposed ‘Merry Christmas’ greeting. When clicked, the link infected computers with a hard-to-detect program. It not only stole users’ passwords and online account information, but disabled computer security notifications, software updates and firewall settings,” AARP added.
If you receive an e-card notification, follow these safety tips:
-Beware of emails containing a link or attachment that ends with “.exe”. These are executable files that could potentially download malware onto your computer.
-Even if you recognize the sender’s name, it may still be a scam. The real sender can spoof the name of someone you know.
-To be on the safe side, go to the card company’s website to open your greeting. You should receive a confirmation code in the email that lets you open your card on their website.
2. Natural Disasters
Seeing the devastating aftermath of natural disasters can really tug at the heartstrings… and scammers know this. That’s why you should beware of fake charities. Reader’s Digest offers these helpful tips:
-If a charity reaches out to you for a donation, get in touch with them to get more details before sending anything.
-Don’t send cash.
-Watch out for charities with names similar to verified organizations.
-Don’t wait to be contacted by someone. Donate to verified organizations on your own.
NOTE: It’s not just the donors who get duped. Sometimes storm victims end up getting scammed, too. Here are some scams to look out for:
-Fake contractors. If your home is damaged and in need of repairs, make sure you’re dealing with a licensed contractor who, preferably, comes highly recommended. Also, watch out for contractors who ask for full payment before any work is done or contractors who say they’re endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA does not certify contractors.
-Fake rental listings. If you lose your home in a natural disaster and are looking to rent, make sure you visit the rental site before handing over any money. Also, arrange a face-to-face meeting with the landlord. Lastly, don’t disclose any financial information over the phone or Internet.
1. Hacked Facebook Account
If you receive a Facebook Messenger chat from a family member or friend telling you that you qualify for free money, it’s likely a scam. Not that your family and friends are trying to scam you, but con artists will often pose as loved ones, either by hacking their Facebook account or creating a separate lookalike profile. In order to get your “free money,” you will need to pay an upfront delivery or processing fee.
Alabama FOX news affiliate WALA reported earlier this year about a woman who’d fallen for the Facebook Messenger scheme. According to news anchor Lenise Ligon, a woman in Mobile, AL, was bilked out of $950 from a man claiming to be her uncle. She was told that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was going to distribute $90,000 to the disabled and unemployed. In order to get her share, she would need to send $200 for shipping, $350 for insurance, and $400 for taxes. The woman purchased $950 in iTunes cards and sent pictures of the codes. After that, the crook asked for $6,500 for Homeland Security. At that point, she knew she was being scammed. She asked for her money back but was told she’d have to fill out a form that would cost $500.
“Be wary of your friends’ tastes online: Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real-life. But email messages, social posts, and Facebook Messenger chats could be from a hacked or impersonated account. Report scam accounts and messages to Facebook,” WALA said on its website.
Now that you are aware of some common scams being run, take some precautions and protect yourself. Both the BBB and BBC News have articles on why people fall victim to these scams and what they can do to better protect themselves. Thanks for reading, and be safe!