Knowing how to avoid scams is a critical life skill. Fortunately, fourteen simple safety measures will help you dodge the risks – whether the scam comes via the phone, regular mail, an email, or somewhere online.
Once you’ve reviewed these safety measures, get some extra training by using our spot the spam scam examples to stay ahead of the crooks. Though the examples are displayed as email scams, they apply no matter what the circumstance, or the method of delivery. You may want to return back a few times a year as periodic practice helps you stay up-to-date on the latest scam styles and refresh your defenses.
- Slow down; do not let a sense of urgency, or high-pressure sales tactics influence your careful review.
- Look for errors in spelling, grammar, layout, etc.
- Research the facts in a search engine or contact the company directly (see #6). If the offer is for an investment, have someone at your bank, a financial consultant, or trusted advisor review the deal.
- Delete any request for personal financial information – like bank account or bank routing information, credit card numbers
- Reject offers of help, or requests for help. If you did not specifically request assistance from the sender, consider any offer to help restore credit scores, refinance a home, etc. a scam. Similarly, requests for help like charity scams tug on heartstrings – especially after a disaster. Seek out reputable charitable organizations on your own to falling for a scam.
- Drive, don’t be pulled. Never, ever, click on a link in an email – find the site yourself through a search engine to be sure you land where you intend to land. Hovering over links shows the actual URL at the bottom of the email, but a good fake can still steer you wrong. Never use phone numbers from the email, look it up.
- Downloads are dangerous – if you don’t know the sender personally AND expect a file from them, downloading is a mistake.
- Foreign offers are fake – like any foreign lotteries or sweepstakes, money from an unknown relative, or requests to transfer funds from a foreign country for a share of the money.
- Overpayments are obvious – no legitimate person, company or organization is going to send you a real check for more than the cost of the item you are selling. These are always counterfeit casher’s check or money order scams where you will be stuck with the bill.
- Check out the check or money order. You are responsible for any check you deposit — even if you don’t know they’re fake. This means any counterfeit check sent to you as ‘prize money’ from a lottery or sweepstakes, ‘payment’ for being a secret shopper, or payment for an item you sold, will leave you holding the debt. Always verify the check with the bank to be sure it is legitimate, and that the funds are covered, before depositing or cashing it, or sending whatever item was ‘purchased’.
- Emotions cloud judgment – scammers manipulate emotions, if you’re financially stressed, lonely, angry, sad, overly happy, frustrated, looking for romance, etc. you’re more likely to fall for fraud. Put emotions aside as you evaluate phone calls, mail, email, online offers, or notices.
- Curiosity leads to careless clicking – if you don’t know what the email is about, clicking links or sharing information are poor choices.
- Free has a price tag – and it’s usually more than you bargained for.
- Chain letters choke servers and may steal your ID, corrupt your computer, or harm friends. Don’t pass it on.