Internet scams have become so commonplace in society that they’ve actually become a joke, a meme all their own. Popular television shows, movies, and even children’s programming have had light-hearted references to strange emails from deposed royalty, asking for help in moving some money out of the country in exchange for a cut of the proceeds.
Some of the scams are seemingly harmless, such as ones that circulate on social media that tell you a child will have his bone marrow transplant paid for by AT&T if only he can get one million people to click Like and share it. Those scams, while not directly impacting users’ bank accounts, do help wouldbe hackers access the unsuspecting do-gooders’ contact lists. But more and more sophisticated scams have come up as words of warning spread among online community members. In order to keep yourself safe, there are a few things to remember.
First, you are never going to receive money that you knew nothing about. Whether it’s promises from that aforementioned Nigerian prince, an email stating that a relative has left you money, or notice that you’ve won a lottery or been awarded a grant, it simply does not happen that way. If you had actually inherited money, you wouldn’t find out in a grammatically atrocious email.
More importantly, people who need your private information in order to process a transaction should already have it. These scams—called “phishing” in reference to their attempts to get you to take the bait—work by getting you to click an included link and provide sensitive identifying information to the hackers. It would be the same thing as walking up to a would-be burglar and offering him the keys to your home and a list of dates when you’ll be out of town. If an email that appears to come from your credit card company or online banking service asks you for information that they should already have, delete it immediately. If you are concerned that there actually might be something wrong with your account, simply call the number on the back of your card and speak to customer service about it, but do not handle it via email.
Keep in mind that a new type of threatening scam is circulating. In those cases, the caller or email alleges that there are charges being held against you. The contacting party threatens you with everything from being sent over to a collection agent, all the way to actually having you deported for failure to pay some tax or fine. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re being sent to a collections department, good! There will be an investigation into the financial situation and the matter can be resolved. Of course, the scammer doesn’t actually plan to turn you over to collections, and is hoping the very threat of something so ominous sounding will be enough to get you to turn over your financial information. Don’t get me started on the fact that the IRS does not have its own police force or the jurisdiction to have you picked up for failure to pay a tax you’ve never heard of. It’s not usually step one in these situations!
If it’s too good to be true, it is. Promises of work-from-home opportunities, easy money if you just act now, and similar scams have already swindled far too many people. These scams are banking on the hope that you don’t know that much about online business and the internet. Remember this: if you wouldn’t fall for it in person, don’t fall for it online. If someone approached you on the sidewalk and offered you the chance to make easy money, you’d laugh as you walked away. Treat so-called online opportunities with the same scrutiny.
In order to protect yourself, follow up on news of scams from sites like the Federal Trade Commissions’ scam alert reports (Consumer.FTC.gov/scam-alerts). This site updates consumers about new scams that have begun to circulate.
The most important thing you can do is report a scam if you fall victim to it. Too often, consumers feel silly for being easy prey and therefore don’t want to take action, but the only way your state’s Attorney General can work to put a stop to a scam—or even inform the public about it—is if you’ve reported it. In cases where you don’t fall for that email promising you half of the man’s ten billion dollar empire if you just help him get the money out of the country, pressing “Report as Spam” in your email inbox will also alert your email service provider, and they can take action as well.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.