Spot a Scam Before it Happens
With the holiday season approaching, retailers are getting in full swing to tempt your wallet open. But they're not the only ones! Although they're active all year long, the holidays can be a lucrative time for scammers. When you may be inclined to spend more freely, and you're full of seasonal good-will and holiday cheer, your guard may be down a fraction, so be careful. Just as the retailers ramp up for the festive season, so do scammers!
Fear and Greed
No doubt scams have been around as long as people have been around (which is a pretty long time!), so you'd think we'd be well attuned to potential scams and knowing how to steer clear. Unfortunately, scammers are not only alive and well, but thriving. Much like the cockroach survives by adapting to new conditions, scammers adapt to new trends and new technology as they emerge. However, one thing that hasn't changed too much are the reasons that people often fall victim: fear and greed.
In one way or another, many scams tend to ultimately boil down to those two emotions. The fear angle may be the fear of losing what we already have (e.g. bank scams often involve telling a victim their account has been compromised and that they need to transfer their funds). Or it could be the fear of missing out on something (i.e. hard-sell tactics), or even fear for the safety of a loved one (e.g. you're told that a loved one is in trouble and needs your immediate [financial] help).
Other "fear scams" might involve coercing/scaring victims into purchasing [often fake] insurance products, for example, which they don't need. One recently reported scam involved an elderly lady having been coerced into parting with around £6,500 ($7,000) over a period of two years for various insurance plans to cover items she didn't even own.
The greed angle should be obvious - yet people still fall victim. Again, this might involve hard-sell tactics, such as for a fake investment product. Nonetheless, often no hard sell is necessary: the allure of doubling one's money, for example, (especially when times might be hard), and encouraged by smooth-talking professional scammers can often be too much to resist for some people. And, of course, like "fear scams", the list of "greed scams" is inexhaustible.
Know the Red Flags that Signal a Scam
▸ You're told to act immediately
The imposters/scammers want you to act immediately, while you're at your most stressed, so you don't have time to more carefully consider your actions/options. They'll often sound very professional, just as you'd expect from an organization you would usually trust. They may pretend to be from an organization such as a bank or utility company, or even the police. They may even know some personal information about you: but that doesn't mean they're legitimate!
There's almost never a situation where you can't wait a while. So, don't be pressured into acting immediately. Verify, verify, verify!
▸ The scammer asks for personal information or codes/PIN numbers
No matter what, never share any personal information or codes when you've been contacted unexpectedly by someone. Regardless of the means of communication, which could be by telephone, email, text alerts, social media, or even in person, do not give them any personal information. Some bold scammers are sometimes even willing to impersonate police or bank employees in person!
If you're concerned about the veracity of a request, go to the physical location of the organization in question (e.g. the bank, the police station, the utility company, etc.). Alternatively, contact them using their official contact numbers as published on your statements or from directory enquiries, for example. Do not call them on numbers provided by the scammers.
▸ You're Being Asked to Pay in an Unusual Way
Be extremely wary if you're being asked to pay for something in an unusual way, such as by gift-card codes, or wire-transfer, or using a payment app. It's highly unlikely that any legitimate company would ask you to pay in such a way.
If your instincts tell you that something is not quite right, then there's a good chance that your instincts are correct. Don't part with any money unless you're 100% certain that everything is legitimate. Being 99% sure is not good enough.
Again, verify, verify, verify!
Don't Become a Victim
Remember, if it plays on your emotions or if it sounds too good to be true, it's likely to be a scam. If any single one of the warning signs mentioned above are present, then be on high alert!
Also, never feel bad about just putting the phone down on someone you think may be scammer; the scammers definitely don't care about your feelings!
Please don't become a victim of scum-bag scammers, and stay alert and stay wary of unexpected callers or messages wanting money from you.
Also remember that just because a phone call appears to come from a trusted source, such as your bank, it very well may not do. Scammers can easily fake their caller-ID and phone number to appear as anything they want - including your bank or police station!
And finally, be sure that your elderly friends and relatives are knowledgeable about the ways in which potential scammers may target them. Unfortunately the elderly are often a prime target, and can tend to be more vulnerable.