International scam artists use clever schemes to defraud millions of people across the globe each year, threatening financial security and generating substantial profits for criminal organizations and common crooks. They use phone, email, postal mail and the Internet to cross geographic boundaries and trick victims into sending money or giving out personal information.
While con artists can be clever, many can be foiled by knowledgeable consumers. Here are 10 things an individual can do to stop a scam.
Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash: once it’s gone, people can’t get it back. Con artists often insist that people wire money, especially overseas, because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money. Don’t wire money to strangers, to sellers who insist on wire transfers for payment, or to someone who claims to be a relative in an emergency and wants to keep the request a secret.
Never send money to someone you don’t know. That includes an online merchant you’ve never heard of or an online love interest who asks for money or favors. It’s best for people to do business with sites they know and trust. If buying items through an online auction, consider a payment option that provides protection, such as a credit card. Don’t send cash or use a wire transfer service.
Do not respond to messages that ask for personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message or an advertisement. Don’t click on links in the message, or call phone numbers that are left on an answering machine, either. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick people into giving up personal information. Those who get a message and are concerned about their account status should call the number on their credit or debit card or statement and check it out.
Avoid playing foreign lotteries. It is easy to be tempted by messages that boast enticing odds in a foreign lottery, or messages that claim you’ve already won. Inevitably, ‘winners’ will be asked to pay “taxes,” “fees,” or “customs duties” to collect the prize. Those who send money won’t get it back, regardless of the promises.
Never agree to deposit a check from someone you don’t know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. Depositors are responsible for the checks they deposit; when a check turns out to be a fake, it’s you who is responsible for paying back the bank.
Read bills and monthly statements regularly. Scammers steal account information and then run up charges or commit crimes in people’s names. Dishonest merchants sometimes bill customers for monthly “membership fees” and other goods or services they didn’t authorize. Those who see charges they don’t recognize or didn’t okay should contact the bank, card issuer, or other creditor immediately.
In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably do not have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity.
Talk to your doctor before buying health products or signing up for medical treatments. Ask about research that supports a product’s claims and possible risks or side effects. Buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies to avoid ending up with products that are fake, expired, mislabeled or dangerous.
Remember there is no such thing as a sure thing. If contacted by someone promoting low-risk, high-return investment opportunities, stay away. When you hear pitches that insist you act now, guarantees of big profits, promises of little or no financial risk, or demands to send cash immediately, report them to the Federal Trade Commission.
Know where an offer comes from and who you’re dealing with. Try to find a seller’s physical address and phone number and not just a Post Office box. With VoIP and other web-based technologies, it’s tough to tell where someone is calling from. Do an Internet search for the company name and website, and look for negative reviews. Check them out with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
One bonus tip — Visit OnGuardOnline.gov to learn how to avoid Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.