At the Better Business Bureau, we spend a significant amount of time talking about scams — with people who contact us, on radio and TV programs, in front of groups, and in other ways. In the process, it often seems as though we see pretty much everything — until we are reminded that there is always some new twist on an old scam.
What follows are observations from this experience. It is in no particular order and includes lessons learned, tips to keep from getting scammed, and things we find to be true.
It is important to know about scams, not just for yourself, but so you can protect others in your life that might fall victim.
Even really smart or educated people can fall victim to the right kind of scam.
A request from someone to wire money is a classic red flag that you may be seeing a scam. Once money is wired, it is almost impossible to recover.
Never wire money to someone you do not know unless you are 100 percent sure everything is legitimate.
Scammers do not necessarily want your money, at first. They may want personal information that they can use to get to your money at a later time or to steal your identity.
There are scams specifically created for every time of year (holidays, seasons, etc.).
There are scams specifically targeting every demographic.
The internet and social media have made it exponentially easier to commit a scam.
People can fake any email address pretty easily, so it might look like you are hearing from someone you trust (a big-name company or organization, your employer or even a friend), when it is really someone trying to get your money or personal information.
If you are buying something over the internet (or even in person) and have any reason at all to be concerned, use a credit card (as opposed to debit), because the protections in cases of fraud — and the ability to get your money back — are typically greater.
Follow your instincts. Often, people feel like something is wrong with a deal that turns out to be a scam, but they do not listen to that feeling and fall victim to something they could have avoided. If you have any cause for concern at all, look more closely before taking any action, or just walk away.
If you receive an e-mail or see something on a website that might be a scam, look up the phone number separately — rather than using a number that has been provided — and make sure the company or organization involved. This can often be an easy way to confirm that something is not right.
Never, ever click a web link you are not expecting, even if you know the sender, until you know for sure that it is okay. This is the most common way for someone to get into your computer to deliver a virus, gain access to your computer files, or even completely take control of your computer.
Smartphones are like little computers, and are susceptible to essentially the same issues as computers they can be given a virus; be taken over by someone in a remote location; or targeted by scammers in countless other ways.
Your parents were right: "If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is!"
This list is hardly exhaustive of all the things BBB has learned about scams, but it provides a good foundation that everyone should have. Follow this list and stay alert, and you, your money, and your personal information may be much safer.
Report a scam or get more information by calling 573-886-8965, or visit midmobbb.org.
Sean Spence is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.