The internet is a great place to learn information, get access to the entire globe with a few clicks, and even make and spend money without needing to leave your living room. Unfortunately, all of that convenience and the anonymity that comes with it have caused a small portion of the internet’s users to turn to nefarious acts to try and get your money, or even your identity. Here are several ways to spot a scam, and how to report such scams to the authorities.
Email is a hotspot for scammers looking to make a quick buck, so the ability to tell a legitimate email from one trying to mess you over is an important skill to learn. By looking at who sent the email, what it says, the quality of the writing, and with a little bit of research, you can pretty easily tell whether an email is a scam or not.
First off, check who sent the email. You can usually find the email address that the message was sent from at the top of the email. It’ll have a ‘@’ in it. Companies requesting information from you will never send you an email from a personal account, so anything other than @, followed by the company name, is likely a crook. If the email appears to be from you, that is also a good indication that it’s a crook.
Next, look at what the email says. The rule of thumb from life that ‘if something looks too good to be true, it probably is’ holds true on the internet as well. So someone coming to you saying they are holding money from you is likely a scam, especially if they make reference to you needing to send them money first, even if they say it’s to cover fees and transfer costs. Pay close attention to the quality of the writing. If they use numbers instead of letters in places, or make very obvious mistakes, then the email is made in a way that is attempting to pass through your spam filter, and it is almost surely a scam.
Lastly, if it has seemed legitimate so far, take a look at the group they claim to be with. Do a web search for that group, and another web search with a portion of the body of the email. There are dozens of sites on the internet specializing in hosting scam letters to warn people, so copying the body of the email will likely show it to be a scam if it is one.
Internet ads can be hard to detect, even for a seasoned web user. To this day, I still occasionally fall for scam ads, but there are a few things you can use to avoid falling for them. Keep in mind, you should have a decent anti-virus software installed, as even the most knowledgeable web user will sometimes accidentally click on a bad link, inviting a virus to take root on their computer.
The first thing you want to do with a link is to run it through the ‘is this too good to be true?’ test. There are no websites that will make you rich for filling-out surveys, there are no websites that will tell you the future, and an ad won’t know if you have money being held overseas.
If it passes that test, move your mouse over the link. On the bottom right or left of your browser, another web address should appear. If the link is supposed to direct you to another place on the website you’re on, then that web address at the bottom of the page should begin just like the one you’re on does. If it’s supposed to take you somewhere else, then the name of that company should appear at the beginning of the link. If it the link doesn’t follow one of those two rules, I’d highly recommend avoiding it. If it’s something you really want to see, do a web search for it on your own.
Finally, when you come to a website asking for money, be sure to read the entire page. When you have read it all, look back up to the address bar on your browser and make sure the website you think you are on is reflected in the address bar. There are quite a few scams that involve the scammers recreating legitimate payment websites, hoping you’ll input your payment information. This is called phishing. Be very, very careful whenever putting in your financial information on the internet.
How to Report Suspected Scams
If you feel you have become the victim of a scam, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency charged with ensuring the safety and security of the consumer base. If you feel that the scam may affect your finances, call your bank and tell them what happened, and they will walk you through locking down your accounts. If you feel that someone has attempted to steal your identity, call your local non-emergency law enforcement phone number and they will help you fill out a report, and investigate the incident.