It’s a sad reality that there are people in this world who seek to take advantage of others by selling low-quality goods and services or otherwise swindling their victims out of money through deceit and trickery. However, if you know what to look out for, you can avoid getting scammed altogether—or even recover your losses should you already have fallen victim to such unscrupulous activities. Here are the top 10 ways to avoid getting scammed and stay safe in your day-to-day life.
1) Don’t fall for free gift offers
If a stranger sends you an email, call or letter and says they want to give you a gift, that’s likely because they want something in return. For example, if someone gives you a gift certificate for $5,000 from Walmart but asks you to buy them an iPad from Apple first, that’s not free money. The scammer is trying to get you to send him cash so he can then use your credit card information to make purchases. Don’t fall for it!
2) Check your credit card statements regularly
There’s an old saying that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Too many times, people get sucked into scams by overreacting and being too greedy. If a deal seems too good to be true, call your bank or credit card company and verify that they have placed no holds on your account. Most of these companies will be able to confirm whether or not there are any restrictions on your account in real time. Don’t give out personal information: When you are asked for personal information such as social security numbers, mother’s maiden name, passwords, PIN numbers, etc., do not give it out! This kind of information should never be given out over email or through unsolicited phone calls.
3) Beware of social media and dating apps
You’re not always getting what you see in social media, and for those using dating apps, a person could very well be misrepresenting themselves. Before meeting up with someone from an app or website (or social media), run their profile through Google or do some other digging into their background. You can also use your own common sense: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And in many cases, if something sounds too outrageous, it’s likely a scammer fishing for victims. A few red flags to look out for include: promises of immediate wealth, guarantees that you won’t lose money on a deal or investment opportunity, and repeated attempts at communication after one interaction.
4) Know where you bank accounts are located
Keeping your money in an offshore account can be a great way to avoid paying taxes and prevent identity theft, but it also means you’re not in control of your finances. If you don’t know where your money is and how it’s handled, what recourse do you have if something goes wrong? It’s better to keep things simple and straightforward. For example, moving all of your accounts into one location such as a credit union or community bank can help protect against fraud.
5) Stay away from pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, and other investments
In short, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious with investments and money-making opportunities that can’t give you any concrete evidence of their trustworthiness. Also take note of your gut feeling: if something feels off about a business or opportunity, think twice before giving them your hard-earned cash. If you need help, check out BBB Wise Giving Alliance for tips on how to avoid scams.
6) Don’t buy tickets from scalpers or on Craigslist
A 2010 study by Technology Advances Collegiate and Entertainment Events found that 82% of tickets for concerts, games, and other major events purchased on Craigslist were fraudulent. For example, researchers purchased Super Bowl tickets advertised on Craigslist and discovered that they were fake. There are two reasons why it’s a bad idea to buy tickets from sites like Craigslist: firstly, you don’t know if they’re legitimate; secondly, even if they are valid, they probably won’t arrive in time. If you want to avoid getting scammed, purchase your tickets directly from an authorized vendor.
7) Never donate to charity through texts or emails
Many of us have received messages on our phones asking for donations. We know it’s important to give back, but by donating through these texts or emails, you are more likely than not sending your money into a scam artist’s pocket. Be sure that you always donate directly through official websites or organizations so that your money goes where it should go.
8) Turn off caller ID when calling out of the country
Before you pick up your phone and dial internationally, remember that every time you call an international number (even if it’s just across town), your phone’s caller ID will likely be broadcast on their end. This may draw unwanted attention—and possibly scams! If you want to keep your personal information private, turn off caller ID when calling out of the country. It’s free and easy, so there’s no reason not to do it. And, as a bonus tip: set aside a dedicated credit card for international travel and use it only for these types of calls. That way, if someone were to make a purchase using your card while traveling abroad, you would know right away. Also avoid using any other form of payment during these calls (such as PayPal or Venmo) because they could be easily used without your knowledge in potentially fraudulent ways.
9) Never share your personal information online without verifying who they are first
If a website asks for personal information like your email address, social security number, credit card or bank account numbers you should always be sure that it is a trusted and legitimate site before you give out any information. It’s better to spend a few minutes researching than risk having your identity stolen by someone trying to scam you. Also, never click on links in emails that look suspicious or are unsolicited. The safest way to share sensitive information online is through an encrypted connection (look for https:// at the beginning of a web address). You can also use an app called Google Authenticator which will generate unique codes every 30 seconds so no one else can access your accounts even if they have your password.
10) Stop opening suspicious email attachments
If you didn’t request it, don’t open it. It sounds easy enough, but we’re all guilty of opening up messages from that distant relative we haven’t seen in years. Be wary of email attachments from people you do not know—it could be a scammer looking for information about your company or personal data. Instead, try forwarding suspicious emails to [email protected] with [Your Name Here] – SCAM ALERT! in the subject line. We’ll investigate and let you know if it’s legit. The worst case scenario is they tell you it’s spam, which is what you already knew. The best case scenario is they identify a phishing attempt before it hits your inbox.