Scammers are becoming increasingly better at finding ways to manipulate you into their trap. They’re finding new ways every day to learn more about you and make you feel comfortable when they approach you, and these days, it’s not hard anymore.
Do a search for your name. Odds are, you’ll find out there’s more about you online then you really want people outside of your close circle of friends to know. Does your LinkedIn give hints at where you work and your location? Does Facebook and Pinterest give insights into your interests? Did you find your home address attached to your name – or even your phone number? With this type of information on hand, a scammer could easily tailor an email message that captures your interest. The part that you need to know, however, is what to do when the scammer reaches out.
So, how do you know if you’re being scammed?
Here are a few steps to take before responding to suspicious emails or scams.
If you get a random email from someone, it’s time to investigate a little before you respond. Even if it seems like they know you, remember they could have done their homework.
Look at the senders email address. Someone from your bank isn’t going to send you an email from email@example.com. If the email looks suspicious, it probably is. You can always write or call your bank to find out if it’s a scam – most financial institutes are more than willing to help when it comes to scammers.
Another good trick is to try Googling the email itself and see what comes up. I’ve seen it where people on online forums have already posted the email address as a scam – ding, ding, there’s your answer!
Don’t click on any links in the email. Simply scroll over the link with your mouse and look in the bottom left corner for a pop-up of where the link is going to send you (this works on websites too). If the link looks suspicious, it’s probably a scam. Also, know that scammers will go through the trouble of creating a website that is very, very close to something you may know (if not the exact same copy). They’ll also create web addresses that are similar; for example, www.paypal.com is a legitimate site, but paypals.com and paypal.edu are sites that aren’t owned by PayPal. Know the actual web address of the sites you visit.
It’s important to know that the link could look legitimate in print, but hovering over the link (without clicking) can show you if it is or is not the actual link you’re being seen in print, e.g. www.paypal.com <– I turned that content into a link to Google as an example.
If you’re not sure what the link is, Google the company name or link. If it’s a known scam, there will likely be sites that mention this.
Lastly, during times of natural disasters and major events scammers have been known to set up a fake charity sites to take advantage of you. For charities, you need to do your research to ensure it is a legitimate charity organization. Resources like www.charitynavigator.org or www.bbb.org can help you learn more about real charities.
Not everyone has the best grammar, so it’s hard to say that a poorly written email or website is likely a scam, but it does seem to be a noticeable theme amongst scammers. If it’s hard to understand the content as you read through it, it may be a scam – especially if the email is reportedly from a reputable source, e.g. your bank, PayPal, Facebook, etc.
Medical or Financial Assistance.
If you’re ever asked for help because of a medical issue or financial transition, it’s probably a scam. I received two over the past month that read like this:
I need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible http://teobroma.com.… the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include hosting and i want the same page as the site i gave you to check out and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.
Good Day, Am Mark Cole i wanna know if you can handle (Website Design) for a new marketing and also if credit card is fine to make payment with you kindly get back to me ASAP so i can send you the job details. You can always reach me vi email
The person mentioned later in the email that they were hearing impaired and could only do business via email. This is a perfect example of medical and financial assistance in one – he claimed to have a medical condition and would only be able to pay via credit card.
After researching this one, the follow-up email was that the person wanted to pay you an extra $2,000 that you would then forward to his content provider – I’m guessing there’s no content provider and you’d be out $2,000 if you followed through.
Also, anytime that anyone asks you for money, please, please do your research before sending any of your personal information to them or just forwarding them money. If they ask for money, it’s likely a scam.
Google the Content.
From catfishing to charity scams to web designer scams, scammers usually use the same content in their emails. They may change the name or even the first few sentences, but mixed in is usually copied content that has already been reported as a scam. Take a few sentences from the scam I posted above and Google it. You’ll see that other people have already written about the scam – ding, ding again!
I mentioned catfishing too, right? Yes, that means you can take emails sent to you and do the same Google search to see if that content has already been posted as a scam. Still not convinced it’s a scam? Think the sender was just being lazy and found this content? Call them out on it. Tell them you think it’s a scam and see how they reply.
Google the Name.
Googling someone’s name or business information is big for a lot of things. If you’re looking to date someone, go ahead, Google their name – why not learn about them a bit before you go on a blind date? If you’re looking to hire someone, you should see how they portray themselves online to get a feel for how they’d fit with your culture. And if you’re trying to find a scammer, it’s one of the easiest ways to find out if he’s/she’s legit.
Let’s take Mark Cole above. In his email he told me his name, that his company was based in South Carolina, and that he wanted to name is company “Breezy Fresh Farms.” That enough information that I can do a bit of research and should find something on him, but I didn’t. There was nothing online that matched any mix of those results. That’s because this Mark Cole is a scammer.
Call the Company.
If they claim to be from your bank or a company you deal with and have suspicions, call the company and ask them about it. I mentioned this above, but it’s worth saying again. Most reputable companies will not ask you for a username, password, bank account details, or other personal information via email or through the phone – especially if they already have this information.
Reverse Image Search.
Going back to catfishing, if you’re sent a picture and want to know if it’s legit, do a reverse image search to see if it’s used anywhere else. You can do this one of two ways. 1) Use the Google Goggles app from your phone to do a search for an image – simply scan the image, touch the photo icon, and if Google recognizes the image, it’ll return search results to you. 2) Visit Google Images and upload (or drag and drop) an image into the screen. To upload an image, simply click the camera icon. Do a search and Google will show you similar images.
If you find that the image is used on other Facebook profiles or associated with other names, it’s likely a scammer.
Reluctant to Meet.
If someone reaches out to you and wants to conduct business or start a relationship, but is reluctant to meet, there’s a red flag there! There are Cragislist scams and random email scams where people will buy something from you or want to conduct business, but they can’t actually meet you in person to do complete the transaction; instead, they work through mail/shipping or through a friend to complete the transaction.
A common scam I’ve seen is where packages of electronics are mailed to a US citizen that is then asked to keep a few electronics for themselves for being kind enough to re-mail the packages to them across seas. The scam here is that you’re being the middle man between fraudulent credit card charges. You’re the one that would get in trouble for accepting the package and for shipping it out of the US.
There are a ton of resources online to help you learn more about scams, including this FBI webpage devoted to common scams and tips on keeping yourself protected. Do your research and be aware that new scams are happening each and every day. Knowing the signs of suspicious activity is the first sign of protecting yourself from fraud.
What other tips do you have for protecting yourself against scammers?