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Attention US Residents:
If you've been contacted by scammers, your personal information may have been breached. #ScamExperts highly recommends that consumers whose information has been breached obtain identity theft protection service immediately. There are several companies that offer identity theft protection in the US. One of the most inexpensive options we were able to find is the protection offered by LifeLock. You can start your protection here.
Disclaimer: The information and opinions contained on this site are not endorsed by LifeLock. ScamGuard receives compensation from LifeLock. This helps support our scam prevention efforts.
Most common signs of a scam:
One common pitfall of the digital age is the wide variety of scams that ordinary people are now becoming exposed to from all points of the globe. It is a common misconception that only foolish people fall for scams, when in fact there are a number of highly educated and highly intelligent people that fall just as easily into the traps of some of the more clever scam artists. Some scams are well known and easily avoided, but there are a number of much more convincing scams because the targets are carefully researched and carefully selected. There are, however, a number of common elements that point to an offer or request being a scam. Here are 10 warning signs that the offer or request you are receiving is a scam.
1. Being offered the money you weren't expecting
As much as we all want to believe the fairy tale of being contacted by an attorney representing a previously unknown relative leaving us a fortune, it just doesn't happen. In most cases, attorneys will almost never make an effort to hunt a beneficiary down because they control the assets until someone claims them. It is generally your responsibility to find assets you are entitled to, not the other way around. Whether it's an inheritance from a relative you've never known about, receiving a grant you've never applied for or winning a lottery you never entered if someone is offering you the money you weren't expecting, proceed with extreme caution. Google search the person and the company they supposedly work for, call the business directly and also do a Google search with the word "scam" at the end to see if it has been previously reported as a scam.
2. Links that ask for personal or private information
Legitimate businesses will never contact you and ask for personal or private information. Scammers, however, can set up websites that look just like the legitimate website of the actual business. They will then send you an e-mail asking you to click on a link and log in to verify the information. When you do so, they collect both your login information and any personal information you provide.
If you get an e-mail from a bank or any other business you generally do business with asking you to verify information, never click on any links they provide. Instead, either call the business to verify or go directly to their website via your own saved link or a search engine link.
3. Be wary of spelling and grammatical errors
While even the most legitimate and well-established businesses can occasionally let a spelling or grammatical error slip through their rigid inspection, scammers often reside in a foreign country and do not speak English as their primary language. If you get an e-mail that is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, there is almost a 100% chance that it is a scam.
4. Requests for Fees
One common scam is to request a fee to release a huge sum of money. These fees can be for taxes or a processing fee, but if they genuinely had money to give you, they can just hold the fee back from the total. Never pay fees or make payments to any business or company you haven't thoroughly investigated and vetted as being legitimate.
5. Check domains carefully
In addition to setting up fake websites, scammers will also set up fake e-mail addresses that seem to be from a legitimate company. The domain is the information after the @ symbol in an e-mail address. If you receive an e-mail from a business that seems in any way odd, the first clue is if the domain is from a free e-mail service such as Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook. While some legitimate businesses might use a free e-mail host, it is rare.
Today, however, it is easier than ever to purchase a custom domain, so that is where you also want to carefully verify that the e-mail you received is from the legitimate business. Your best option is to go to the company website through a search engine and e-mail the individual directly, rather than simply clicking on the reply button.
If e-mailing them through their own website is not an option, there are other ways you can investigate more thoroughly before responding. You can use a Whois lookup service such as domaintools.com to find out who owns the domain and the company's website as well if they have one. You can also use an online white or yellow pages to look up the individuals the e-mail is supposedly from.
Most legitimate businesses and individuals will also have a social media presence that you can check as well. If you can't find a clear and distinct trail of information about this person or business, it's probably a scam.
Never click on any links until you have thoroughly verified the sender. Clicking on links in e-mails puts your computer at risk of being infected by viruses, trojans and other types of malware.
6. Suspicious addresses, no address or PO Box
Genuine businesses have genuine addresses that have been verified and registered. While many legitimate businesses will have a PO box as a mailing address due to the high volume of mail they receive, they also have a legitimate street address. Some mail services, however, offer PO boxes with legitimate street addresses. If anything seems even slightly amiss, it's worth it to do some additional investigation before responding, clicking on a link or giving any information. If they do give an address, you can do a Google search or even use a Google Maps or Google Earth to see if the address is legitimate or not.
7. Requests for remote computer access
If anyone calls you claiming to be a technician and requesting remote access to your computer, be very suspicious. The best thing to do is to hang up, look up the phone number or toll-free number of the business yourself and call them back directly.
8. Untraceable methods of payment
Legitimate businesses use legitimate methods of payment like banks. Even when they use online services like PayPal, you can check with PayPal to see if they are a verified sender or not. Scammers prefer untraceable payment methods like Western Union. Do not send or even receive money from any source you are not 100% sure of.
Words like "immediately" and "act now" and "time-sensitive" should all be red flags. While a genuine business making a genuine offer may only extend the offer for a limited time, it will be more than enough time for you to verify the legitimacy of the business. Scammers want you to act immediately before you have time to check them out or rationally contemplate the likelihood of their outrageous offer being legitimate.
The best way to avoid being scammed is to resist the urge to act swiftly or immediately. Remember that scammers are often master students of psychology and human behavior and know exactly the buzz words and key phrases to use to get you to act quickly and respond irrationally. The best thing you can do when faced with a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" is to take a step back, take a minute to think clearly and rationally and do some careful research before responding.