Money scams have existed for years, but criminals continue to discover and implement new, sly tactics. Their current efforts focus on sending out phony emails, pretending to be a trustworthy person, to seek out personal information from victims like credit card numbers, bank accounts and personal identification information, such as a passport or Social Security number.
Sometimes, the scams are very obvious and easily avoided. For example, an African prince or other wealthy individual wants to send you money until he can make it to the U.S., and all you need to do is send your bank account and Social Security number. However, far too often, the victim doesn’t pick up on the scam and hands over their confidential information to the criminal. Many people don’t know how to properly identify a scam. According to Yahoo Finance, in a recent study, 19,000 people were asked to look at 10 emails to identify which ones were scams. Only 3 percent of participants were able to identify all of the phony messages. The most common money scams are phishing, fake lottery or prize winnings, and phony check requests.
Phishing for Personal Information
Phishing is an all-too-common method used by thieves and con artists to acquire your personal information in order to steal your identity and eventually your money. The sender pretends to be from a legitimate retailer, bank or government agency and seeks your personal information for some made-up reason: your account is about to be closed, an order for something has been placed in your name, you recently changed your password or your information has been lost because of a computer problem.
For example, one woman received an email from PayPal from a seemingly legitimate sender: firstname.lastname@example.org which included a link to the real PayPal site. The email said she had recently changed her password and asked her to call a phone number if that wasn’t the case. When she called, the person on the other end asked for her credit card number to “verify her account.” This was a red flag and the woman immediately hung up the phone, which is what you should do if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Lottery and Prize Winning Scams
The most common method for a lottery scam is a call from either an automated machine or a person who says you’ve just won the lottery. You just need to pay a tax or insurance fee before you get your millions. If it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely is. If you didn’t enter, you didn’t win. Remember, you shouldn’t ever need to pay any fees to collect lottery winnings.
Unfortunately, this scam is commonly used to target the elderly. According to AARP, women are twice as likely as men to fall for elder financial abuse, especially when they're in their 80s and living alone. An elderly person of either gender, who is used to making quick decisions, most frequently falls for "act now" scams, like fake lottery winnings. If you have an elderly parent or parents, be sure to sit down and talk with them about how to spot and handle these scams.
Unfortunately, the “grandparents scam” is a method of exploiting grandparents’ unwavering love and affection for their grandchildren. The way this scam works is a criminal will call a grandparent and pretend to be their grandchild. They will give a bogus story about how they are in big trouble and are at the police station with a lawyer present. The caller may ask you to speak to the lawyer to prove their credibility. Then, they will ask for a sum of money to be wired to bail them out of jail.
The caller may also provide personal information like names of grandchildren and other relatives to prove they are real. The best thing someone can do in this scenario is to ask for more information to verify the person’s identity. Questions like, “What was your address when you lived in _____,” or “What is your mother’s maiden name?” Chances are, the caller won’t have the answers and will either continue to plead for the money or hang up the phone.
When it comes to money scams, the bottom line is if you receive any suspicious, urgent requests for money or personal information, be diligent and do some research before handing over that information. Online retailers or banks will never ask for your passwords via email. It’s important to know what to look for in a potential scam and be able to identify red flags so you aren’t on next year’s FTC list of those who have been victimized by imposters.