Some people roll their eyes at the idea of online scams, insisting that these are the sorts of things that only older, technophobic folks and highly naive people tend to fall for—that is, until it happens to them.
We are all human, and so there is not a single one of us who is 100% immune to social engineering. Whether the scam is something as obvious as a Nigerian prince claiming to be gifting you a fortune, or something a bit more subtle, like an email from an alleged creditor, we have to be careful with who and what we believe when we use the Internet.
How do you know when you’re being scammed, though, especially if you’re a trusting kind of person who tends to give people the benefit of the doubt? Well, there are a few major red flags that you should always keep an eye out for:
1) Is it too good to be true?
This warning sign is high on the list for any kind of scam, and it never holds truer than when you’re dealing with an online fraudster. Did you just get an email informing you that you won a contest that you don’t remember entering? Is someone offering you a “coupon” that provides a severely heavy discount on items that you usually purchase online?
Is that iPhone on Craigslist just a little too inexpensive?
By all means, keep your mind open to opportunity, but don’t let greed get in the way of your better judgment. It is better to be prudent and a little over-cautious than to end up hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the hole.
2) There’s nothing in it for them.
Speaking of things being too good to be true, put yourself in the shoes of the person who is offering you the deal. What’s in it for them? If the answer is “nothing” or “very little,” then this is a major red flag. Most people aren’t that generous, and when that generosity comes from a total stranger, completely unsolicited, it’s even fishier.
Of course, their end of the legitimate bargain might not always be obvious to you.
For example, there are plenty of people who offer free eBooks with valuable information in exchange for your email address, and what they get in return is somewhat insubstantial, but nonetheless valuable: exposure, and the ability to up-sell you to one of their products. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s a win-win situation. However, if someone is offering you an AMAZING!!! opportunity with three exclamation marks, and before long you realize that they’re trying to recruit you into their “investment” scheme, then obviously steer clear.
Always keep an eye on “the other side” of the deal.
3) Their grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other signs of professionalism are severely lacking.
Most legitimate salesmen that are in it for the long-term know that the message can suffer if the medium is not up to par, so they will usually try to protect their image and reputation by communicating in a grammatical and easily-readable way. Obviously, their language skills don’t have to be completely impeccable, but you should be able to understand what they’re trying to communicate more or less perfectly. If they seem way too sloppy, something is a miss.
4) They’re asking for personal information over an unsecured medium like email.
No legitimate company will ask for personal information via email. If you receive an email, even a very convincing one, requesting that you “confirm” an account number or something similar, assume that it is a fishing attempt and call the customer service number of the company (on the company’s website; not in the suspicious email) if you want to be sure.
5) They’re pressuring you to act soon.
If the suspected scammer is acting like it’s an emergency, and that the deal needs to go through now or else you’ll lose the opportunity forever, that’s probably exactly what he is—a scammer. This pressure is an attempt to induce you into making an emotional, snap judgment that you will probably regret later.
6) You can’t find any information about the person or company.
A legitimate business should thrive on its reputation. If this person or organization operates in the shadows, that should tell you everything you need to know.
7) They act a little too friendly.
Businesses will usually be accommodating to their customers, of course, but is this person so accommodating and overly-friendly that you can’t help but wonder what the catch is? Don’t stick around to find out. If they are stating that you can make A LOT of money in a short period of time, RUN!
8) They want you to pay via less traceable means.
Again, there are certainly businesses that, for one reason or another, must use Bitcoin, Western Union, or cash in order to perform their transactions, but unless that reason is very obvious, they are probably looking to take your money and give nothing in return.
9) They are threatening you.
There’s tons of (effective) malware in the wild that infects your computer and accuses you of having something illegal on there that you need to pay to have removed. Many fishing emails have a similar theme. If you are receiving some kind of contact in the form of threats of this kind, it’s almost certainly a scam.
10) They don’t know very basic things about you.
If your bank contacted you, but they didn’t use your name in the email, and instead used generic terms like “customer,” this is a huge sign that something is wrong. Normally, the legitimate businesses that we work with will purposefully add these little touches so that you will know it is really them.
Do a little research. There are plenty of sites out there where people warn each other of specific scammers. If it’s a shady email that you’ve received, copy and paste a portion of one of the most generic messages they’ve sent you and run it through Google (in quotes).
It’s possible that they are sending the same exact, automatic message to many people in order to scam as many as they can, and others have already encountered them.
The web can sometimes be a treacherous high sea of sorts, and there are plenty of pirates. Be sure to protect yourself and your more naive loved ones from those who are out to swindle and coerce people out of their hard-earned cash.