Scam or Legit? How to Spot a Financial Scam
Phony online shopping sites. “Spoofed” phone numbers. Legit-sounding tech support calls. It seems like scammers are always coming up with new ways to trick people into sharing personal information. The good news is that most of these scams are easy to spot – if you know what to look for.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the latest financial scams making the rounds.
Shopping from home means you can sidestep long checkout lines and avoid crowds – and you can shop any time, day or night, from the comfort of your living room. But shopping online can also put you (and your financial information) at risk. A few common e-commerce scams include:
- Selling counterfeit goods
- Setting up fraudulent retail websites that look like the real thing
- Taking payments and never delivering the products/services purchased
- Selling fraudulent gift cards
Although the schemes differ, at the end of the day, these tactics all have the same goal: To steal your hard-earned money and/or your credit card number. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
Here are a few things to look for when making a purchase online:
- Contact information and/or a physical address. A legit company wants to make it as easy as possible for customers to reach out. An online retailer that doesn’t provide an address or even a phone number or email address might be hiding something.
- A URL that starts with “https” – not “http.” The “s” at the end is critical. It stands for “secure,” and it means that the retailer has taken the security precautions necessary to keep your information safe and private.
- Return policy and terms/conditions. What happens if you’re not happy with your purchase or if your item arrives damaged or defective? Is there an “all sales final” policy?
Maybe it’s an official-looking email from your bank, requesting that you update your contact info. Or perhaps it’s an email from “your credit card company,” asking you to confirm a recent transaction or offering you a limit increase. All you have to do is click the link to approve, confirm, or update.
Phishing scams are one of the oldest forms of online fraud. Scammers use phony emails to trick you into clicking malicious links or sharing personal information, account numbers, or passwords. In the past, it was pretty easy to spot these fake emails: They were riddled with typos and bad grammar; the logos or fonts weren’t quite right. But as phishing scams get more sophisticated, it can be increasingly difficult to distinguish the fakes from the real deal.
The best way to avoid falling victim to a phishing scam? Don’t click on links in an email – especially if you’re not 100% sure if it’s the real thing. Instead, go directly to your bank or credit card website or call the company and ask about it.
When it comes to financial scams, internet crime gets most of the attention – but not all fraud happens in cyberspace. Many criminals use the telephone to conduct their shady dealings. The types of phone scams out there are nearly unlimited, but the end goal is always the same: to convince you to send money, share your account numbers or passwords, or to otherwise gain access to personal information that can be used for fraud.
Here are a few things you should know to protect yourself:
- You should register your cell phone and your landline (if you have one) on the FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry. It won’t stop every robocall, but it’s a good place to start.
- Phone scammers use a tactic called “spoofing,” which involves using fake phone numbers to sidestep Do Not Call lists and call blockers. Many of these “spoofed” phone numbers appear to be local numbers – or even the numbers of people you know – which can also trick unsuspecting people into answering the calls.
- Some telephone scammers will try to trick you into saying “yes” by asking seemingly innocent questions (“Can you hear me?” or “Hi, is anyone there?”). They record you saying yes – and then they use that recording as “proof” that you authorized a transaction or purchase that you never agreed to. The best thing to do if you suspect a scam is simply hang up without saying a word.
Fake Tech Support Scams
What’s scarier than a computer virus? A tech-savvy scammer using a fake computer virus to gain access to your PC (and all of your passwords and personal information). The good news is, these scams are easy to spot if you know what to look for.
Here’s how it works: Someone calls you out of the blue, claiming to be with a computer or software company. They tell you that they’ve detected a virus on your computer, and the only way to protect yourself is to pay them money or give them remote access to your computer – or both!
Don’t say anything, and, most importantly, don’t give out any information! Tech support companies don’t make unsolicited service calls like this. No matter what the phony “support tech” says, don’t believe them!
Government Debt Scams
An ominous call about unpaid Federal student loans. A scary-sounding message about unpaid income taxes. Vague threats or talk of legal action, wage garnishment, and more. Scammers know that government-related debt can be scary, and they use that fear to trick people into sending money or sharing personal information like account numbers, passwords, or Social Security numbers.
Folks fortunate enough to be free of student debt and in good standing with the IRS can easily spot these calls for what they are. But if you happen to have a student loan or two, or if you owe some back taxes, these calls can be tricky. If you receive one of these calls, end the call quickly and contact the IRS or your student loan lender directly.
When it comes to your identity and your credit, there’s no such thing as being too careful! Remember, the friendly folks at American Credit Foundation are always here to help you. Drop us a line if you have any questions about spotting scams or concerns about your financial status following a potential scam attack.