If a stranger called to offer you a bucket of used kitty litter, you’d have no trouble hanging up the phone. Who wants something like that? But when it comes to the things we do want, it’s a little harder to ignore that phone call or email.
There’s a reason scams work so well: they go after our vulnerabilities, our fears, and our goals. That’s the case for a Nebraska woman who was contacted on Facebook and offered a $150,000 government grant to start her home-based business. Now, an out-of-the-blue communication that just happens to offer you start-up money when you need it might be a red flag to some people, and scammers know that. That’s why their tactics have become more and more sophisticated.
After Kathy (last name redacted by the news outlet who shared her story) announced her intentions to start a business, her Facebook friends were supportive. One friend in particular, Donna, went above and beyond by sharing information about a government grant program to get her business going.
Donna’s a great friend… or so Kathy thought.
It turns out that not only was this grant a scam, but Donna wasn’t behind it all. She’s a real person and she really is connected to Kathy on Facebook, but her account had been compromised by scammers. Whether they hacked into her actual account and used it or whether they made a replica of her account in order to scam her friends is unclear; what is known is that Kathy trusted the information her friend Donna seemingly shared with her, and it cost her over $11,000 before she realized she’d been scammed.
Sadly, this is just one of the many forms of social media scams that prey on unsuspecting internet users. This one is particularly awful because it pretends to come from someone you know and trust. The hurt caused by believing that your friend or relative may have been responsible is unthinkable, even if you later find that your friend was a victim in this, too.
There are some ways to avoid being taken in by this kind of scam. Remember, the victim initially thought this information was being given to her by a trusted friend; she had no reason to be suspicious, at least not at first.
- Never pay money to any organization or individual who’s supposed to give you money back in return – No matter how the scam manifests itself, such as a lottery scam or government grant scam, there is no acceptable reason why you would ever have to pay money in order to receive money. If anyone ever tells you that you’re going to receive X amount if you just pay Y amount, it’s a scam.
- Know how your bank works – One of the chief excuses scammers give for requesting money is that your bank needs to see a transaction go through in order to process the deposit. This is playing off of the very real scenario in which you verify your online payment method, such as PayPal. The difference is PayPal charges you a dollar or so to “see” the transaction happen, then turns right around and gives it back as a one dollar deposit when you verify that it was your account. This protects you from hackers using your PayPal account. A scammer will never need you to submit payment for thousands of dollars just to prove that your account is real when one dollar will do.
- Taxes and fees – Another common excuse for requiring you to pay in order to get the money is the “taxes and fees” justification. By telling you this lottery winning, assistance program, or shared wealth is yours if you just pay the “required” taxes first, they’re counting on you doing some quick math. What’s a few thousand dollars when your check for $500,000 will be here on Thursday? Of course, there is no check coming. Taxes are paid after you collect income, not before. And what kind of fees could they possibly need you to cover? Is the donor driving the check to your house? No. He would mail it if it was genuine, so your fees shouldn’t be more than the cost of a postage stamp.
- Wiring money is a no-no – Instant money transfers or money wires are very useful tools, but they’re also one of the payment methods of choice for scammers around the world. Along with prepaid credit cards, wire transfers are virtually untraceable. The person who receives your wire transfer is a needle in a worldwide haystack. If you’re ever directed to submit any kind of payment by prepaid credit card or wire transfer—especially when applying for a federal program, as if the US government needs you to use Moneygram for some reason—stop what you’re doing and think twice.
It’s bad enough to discover that you’ve been scammed and that you’re never getting your money back. But it also hurts to realize that the money you thought you were getting is never going to help you realize your dreams. Don’t fall for a scam that can wipe out your bank account and your goals at the same time.