The Complete Guide To Preventing Scams In 2020

Like Thanos and his quote “I am inevitable”, so too are security breaches, disclosure incidents, information leakage, and cybercrime. Unfortunately, security incidents of all kinds continue to increase year-over-year. Scams alone are responsible for cheating seniors out of almost $3B annually according to the article “scams cheat older Americans out of almost $3 billion a year. Here’s what to watch out for” published by CNBC. 

What has contributed to the ever-increasing number of security threats is the wide range of threat vectors and exploits available to cybercriminals. The number of and variety phishing attempts, scams, and fraud lures unsuspecting victims into providing information about themselves. In some cases, we don’t have control over what’s disclosed about us. But what we can control is our ability to be victimized through scams. Scams can and do take many forms, and the public isn’t always updated on the newest attempts. The reason is that scammers continue to try new ways to con people out of money. However, most scams have certain characteristics in common, and they need to be classified in order to detect and avoid them. 

In the complete guide to preventing scams, we will show you ways to avoid scams, how to recognize when you are being scammed, and how you can fight back. The guide will show you how to detect, prevent, and protect yourself and loved ones from going through a financial and psychological crisis that may follow a scam. 

Consumer Affinity’s Community platform, Split® provides opportunities to learn from people that have been studying fraud, scams, and identity theft for years. Our platform provides content geared to educate people about these subjects.

Types of Scams

To be able to successfully detect a scam, you need to know the types and variety of scams currently in play. It’s likely that this article will reveal certain scams that you would never think could be possible. Going through the list of common scams, it’s easy to think that virtually everything and everyone is susceptible to being the victim of a scam. Our ability to identify a scam is somewhat dependent on our context and current mental state. The point is that even though we are all equally exposed if we arm ourselves with knowledge, we have ways that we can fight back and protect our personal finances. There are many detection and prevention tactics that we can learn that would be useful. Successful use of these tactics will lower your risk of becoming a victim of a scam or a fraud. 

Scams can take place online, over social media, while browsing, using communications technologies (email, telephone, messaging, cell phone), or various apps. Offline scams are usually old-fashioned in a sense, using traditional methods. These methods include confidence scams, landline phones for phone scams, mailbox scams, housing scams, or fake charities that can take place door-to-door or remotely. They can be just as detrimental as online scams, and traditional scams still take place every day across the globe. A scam call allows for close personal contact that can be very direct and demand immediate action from the intended target. Many people feel like they don’t have options, especially if the con artist is assertive, eloquent, and confident. Scammers play on people’s weaknesses, emotions, and fear in order to extort money or personal information. They are notorious for using psychological ‘hacks’ to gain the upper hand and gain a victim’s trust. 

Methods of Approach In Online Scams 

Most organized scams offer something that comes as a reward, usually as a promise of a promotion or gift card. They only ask for your information in return. However, our personal details, such as Social Security Number (SSN), bank account information, and even Driver’s License (DL) details are the last thing you want to share with anyone. Perhaps the best way to not give in to a scam is to maintain a high level of skepticism surrounding trust offers, gift cards, prizes, and lottery wins that pop up as dubious opportunities. A good rule to remember is that you can’t win if you never played. 

In a similar sense, there would be no reason for someone to contact you and share this unbelievable offer for seemingly no reason or anything in return. Scamming pitches usually try to make us believe that we are special, that we are the chosen ones. They’re blatant attempts to appeal to our id (instincts), ego (reality), and our superego ego (morality). The scammer attempts to build trust and confidence (which is, of course, where the term “confidence artist” or “con artist” for short was derived). Naturally, they’re adept at lying and manipulate victims into believing their story. They may use psychological tactics such as a sense of urgency, legitimacy, trust, and authority. Additionally, they may use flattery, compliments, or positive emotions to gain our trust. The scam may involve something that seems small and reasonable. Lastly, they may ask for secrecy. These are all good signs to help you detect scams if you come across them. 

It should be noted that not all scams come as get-rich-quick schemes. While some scams have these kinds of offers and unexpected winnings that entice people to act, some use more drastic measures of approach. It’s not uncommon that scammers use persuasion, threats, and even plain extortion. These scams use fear as the main motivator to get victims hooked. A victim’s sense of embarrassment may keep them from reporting a crime.

How to Detect a Fraud or Scam

Sometimes, the terms fraud and scam are sometimes used interchangeably. Both consist of deceiving people out of money or other resources. The differences between the two is subtle but important. Please take the time to learn ways you can identify scams. Typically, financial institutions will not reimburse victims of a scam. The rational being that we should also be able to reasonably determine what is and isn’t a scam. Financial fraud like the unauthorized use of a credit card number is typically reimbursable because financial institutions and retail establishments have a duty to try and prevent credit card or account fraud. Scams can be better defined as a lower-level type of fraud, but they can still have serious consequences. While we’ve seen what tone and method scams can use, the structure can be a different story. The structure of the scam usually depends on where it takes place. 

Social media scams are, for example, simpler than email scams. They usually take place on chats and have a short message and link involved. The link leads to a fake website or automatically downloads malware to your computing device. Some of these social scams play to one’s vanity, claiming to have video evidence of a private or compromising situation. An example is sex-tortion that plays against a Man or Woman’s sense of morality, the implication of “you’ve likely been doing something wrong” and I’ll out you if you don’t pay. 

The frequent use of social media and romance apps has created a unique approach to scamming. Many scammers create fake profiles so that they can build relationships with victims and extort money from them. Once a fake relationship is established, the scammer emotionally compromises the victim into wiring them money, often without any other contact outside of the app. The scammer is reluctant to move on to different channels and usually cannot provide more than a small handful of images of the person that they are purporting to represent. They may also come up short when the facts of their stories are checked. Anyone that uses social media should be careful but those who immerse themselves in the world of online dating and dating apps should be extra cautious. Last year, we published a Facebook post about the indictment of a group of Nigerians that reportedly stole $6 million using romance scams. If the profile you’re chatting with makes a request for money, then the best course of action would be to cease all communication.  

Email scams have a more sophisticated take on the matter, which does not justify them in any way. Email scammers take more time to build trust and really lure victims into a scam. They can take nearly any form, from extortion to offers of investment opportunities, prizes or trips. Unfortunately, these types of scams are very successful. They usually sound serious and business-like, but only superficially. If you take a closer look at examples of typical email scams, you may notice errors. You may come across spelling and grammatical mistakes, unusual slang or jargon, as well as a strange tone in which the email is often written. You’ll soon notice that something is ‘off’ about the email.

In addition to these oddities, the email is usually presented as coming from a senior executive, a well-known company, or caring public official communicating with the public. In reality, this rarely occurs, if ever. The policy of most large companies is to only contact customers in the normal course of business or unless a complaint has been filed (not including newsletters or other correspondence) that occur regularly. We are talking about emails that arrive out of the blue asking for an immediate response from us. These should be highly suspicious. You have every right to suspect them since we don’t typically fall in love over email and nobody just gives us millions of dollars. Unsolicited emails with unusual payment requests or unexpected deliveries should also be suspect. Protect yourself from scams by always confirming the source and nature of the correspondence.

How to Prevent Scams 

Now that we’ve covered detection, we should focus on prevention techniques against scams. Naturally, avoiding fraud and scams comes down to, first and foremost, knowing how to detect them. There are new scams being invented nearly every day, and as much as we would want to, we don’t have a technical solution for all of them. The fact you can count on is that the modus operandi or way that scams operate are typically well established. Nearly all scams tend to start with an unsolicited contact, pretending to be someone of authority, and ultimately ask for money. If we do reply, the scammer tends to put more pressure on us trying to overwhelm our voice of reason. Promises of high payouts, threats of being reported to the authorities, or just becoming overly friendly in their approach are telltale signs. Use the free educational tools and resources Consumer Affinity provides on Split®.  

The most successful way of preventing a scam is by not making any contact in the first place. Sometimes this is easier said than done. But this advice does go well for both online and offline scams. When online, we have to be sure of who we are talking to and what links we are clicking. Even when very tempted, resist clicking a link or downloading a file that a stranger has sent you. Sometimes the old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true” just plain works. You may not be baby Yoda, but you can use your own version of the force to detect lies, half-truths, and misdirection. 

If you’re invited to provide personal information, credit card information, or a SSN to claim a prize, know that this is likely a ploy to steal your identity or money. Be wary of sharing your personal information or bank details with others. When shopping online, you can better protect yourself by making sure you shop on well-known sites. If you’re unsure of the legitimacy of a site you’re purchasing from, you should google reviews and check online testimonials. If you happen to be new to online shopping and paying for goods online, then we suggest that you take a good look at these 14 tips for safe online shopping.

Methods of Scam Protection 

Prevention and protection usually go hand in hand. Protecting yourself online, however, means making an effort to install security software, acquire password managers and use password hygiene, and maintain situational awareness. Staying safe implies more than preventing contact with scammers. It also implies building strong personal habits where there is little chance of being personally compromised. Online security should not be taken lightly. Just because you are not responding to threats, it does not mean that hackers cannot get your personal information. In order to be certain that no one can compromise you, you need to maintain personal diligence. Similar to how Smokey Bear advocates personal responsibility around preventing forest fires, we advocate personal responsibility around online safety and security.  That means using the right tools and technology to secure your personal devices, home network, monitoring your credit, social accounts, bank accounts, and credit cards. access your data, you need to secure everything from your home network to your login credentials. 

Your home network, home Wi-Fi, and personal computing devices should not be left unlocked for everybody. This includes account security (good usernames, use of MFA and strong passwords), patching, and physical security like locking your devices when not in use. It does not take long to lock down your entire computing infrastructure and make sure that you take basic security seriously. Strong and unique passwords are important when you’re creating accounts online, as this is also a way for scammers and hackers to steal your information. Your passwords should be random where possible, not be easy to guess, and you should keep them safe in a password manager. You can download the manager or install an extension on your browser to keep them all in one place. I myself use two different password managers, one on my smartphone and a different one on my computers.

Even with all password protection, by navigating to a suspicious website, clicking on a suspicious email or ad, you can mistakenly download malware. Malware comes in many different shapes and forms. Some scams will prompt you to install malware that gives remote access to your desktop. This will allow the scammers to remotely control your computer and extract sensitive information at their leisure. Information on your computer needs to be protected by a suite of security software including antivirus, antimalware, disk encryption, firewall, and patching. There are many free and paid software solutions available, which you can download and install for additional safety. Make sure to read reviews and choose the best rated one for your operative system(s). If you’re already a member of our community, keep an eye out as we’ll start writing product reviews soon.

Protecting Your Friends and Family 

Protecting our computers, devices, and networks help to protect us from falling victim to a scam. Many of our closest family members and friends might not have as much knowledge on Internet safety and online security. Your children or parents may not have had as much online experience, meaning they may not be familiar with common scams. Perhaps, to them, these opportunities, links, and ads don’t seem far fetched. They might be tempted to respond or provide personal information, not knowing the consequences. We are here to remind you to talk about and educate those you know about scams. Children and the elderly are particularly viewed by scammers as ‘easy targets’. Let them know about common senior scams, what happens when strangers insist on making contact with us, and how to recognize red flags. Advise them to refrain from sending money to anyone unknown to them, and urge them to always confirm who they are speaking to on the phone. If the phone calls seem to keep coming, asking about donations, late payments, offers, etc, then it would be best to block these numbers. 

Consumer Affinity offers individual and family Split® plans to accommodate the needs of as many individuals as possible.

Consequences of a Scam

If you’re wondering what happens to victims of financial scams, the complete guide to avoiding and preventing scams would not be complete without discussing the consequences. We’ll go over these steps assuming that you have been a victim of a scam. You mustn’t panic, as an emotional response may not result in the best way of handling such situations. In some cases, confirmed scam victims may end up getting their money back but as we mentioned, it depends on the discretion of the financial institution in question. The process is not going to be easy, but some financial institutions have been known to be understanding of these types of crimes and their consequences. You need to turn to them, as well as law enforcement. 

The first step if you’ve been a scam victim of many is to contact your credit card company. The authorities will launch an investigation, and financial institutions will need proof that you’ve reported this to the police. If your credit card has been taken, or you’ve noticed unauthorized charges, you will have to dispute the charge, report it to the credit bureaus, and you should request a credit freeze. This will discourage the scammer from opening more accounts in your name and lead you further into debt. Check your bank accounts and credit cards regularly looking for grey and fraudulent charges. You should also check your credit reports regularly looking for newly opened accounts, requests for credit, and late or delinquent accounts. Don’t forget to change the passwords on every important account and closely monitor the activity on your financial accounts in the following weeks and months looking for odd transactions and unauthorized transfers. Lastly, report scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 

Conclusion

From this point of view, having read about common types of scams, it may seem extreme to put so much effort into prevention and protection. Surely, you would know if you’re being scammed, right? Most of us are vain and refuse to believe that we would become targets. Unfortunately, we can all be fooled by scams, and they cost victims billions of dollars annually. Scammers are counting on our vanity, emotions, and weak spots, and they use them to deceive us in the worst ways. There are pages upon pages of successful scams that only keep growing longer. 

Nowadays, knowing how to spot a scam should be common knowledge but it’s really not. Too many people fall, victim, when they should spot the characteristics of scams. It stands to reason that if people still fall prey to scams that many people don’t know how to react or where to report it if you are a possible victim. It’s also incredibly important to maintain your computer and install extensions and apps that will allow you to function efficiently and without fear. Any scam can lead to identity theft, which is a problem that sometimes takes years to sort out entirely. 2020 is the year where we need to take our online security seriously and make an effort to upgrade ourselves so that we can to protect not only ourselves, but also protect our friends, and our family.

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