According to the charity Citizens Advice, online scammers are preying on as many as four million people each year.
How can you protect yourself from becoming one of them? Look for these characteristics in the emails you receive:
- Unsolicited: You’re told you’ve won a lottery you never entered, or have inherited a fortune from someone you never knew existed.
- Addressed Generally: “Attention!” “Dear Friend,” “Attention the owner of this email,” “Hello, Dear.” Your name is not mentioned, because this email has been mass-mailed to thousands of intended victims.
- Appeals to religion: “Hello Beloved in the Lord” or “Yours in Christ” seeks to create a bond with those who deeply believe in God.
- Misuse of English: Mis-spellings and faulty grammar usually denote someone–probably a foreigner–using English as a second language. Examples: Run-on sentences; “you’re” for “your”; “except” instead of “accept”; “Dear Beneficial” instead of “Dear Beneficiary.”
- Appeals to Sympathy: “My husband just died” or “I am dying of cancer.” This is to make you feel sorry for the sender and lower your guard as an intended victim.
- Use of Important Titles/Organizations: “Director,” ‘Barrister,” “Secretary General of the United Nations,” “Police Inspector.” This is to impress recipients and convince them that the email comes from a trusted and legitimate organization.
- Request for Personal Information: This includes some combination of: Name / Address / Telephone Number / Bank Name / Bank Account Number / Fax Number / Driver’s License Number / Occupation / Sex / Beneficiary / Passport Number
- Claims of Deposit: “We have deposited the check of your fund to your account” is a typical line to instantly grab your attention. Someone you’ve never heard of claims he has just put a huge amount of money into an account you know nothing about. Nor can you access it unless you first pay a “contact fee.”
- The “Bank” is in Africa: Unless you know you have relatives there, this should be a dead giveaway to a scam. Africa is a continent kept alive by the charity of other nations. It’s not in the business of doling out large sums of money to Westerners.
- Overseas Phone Numbers: If you call these, you’ll have a huge bill. So many people skip calling and just send the money “required” to receive their “cash prize.”
- Highly Personal Requests: Asking you–someone they’ve never met–to assume the burden of acting as the executor of their “Last Will and Testament.”
- Love Scams: The scammer poses as a man or woman–usually outside the United States–seeking love. A series of emails flows back and forth for days/weeks, until the scammer says s/he will be glad to fly to the United States to be yours. All you have to do is put up the money for the flight cost.
- “Make Money From Home”: With most employers refusing to hire, “work from home” scams promise a way to support yourself and your family. You’re required to provide bank information or pay an up-front “registration fee.” Then you wait for job orders–that never come.
- Debt Relief: Scammers promise to relieve most or all of your debt–for a large up-front fee. You pay the fee–and are not only out of that money but still in debt.
- Home Repair Schemes: Huge down payments are required for home repairs that never happen.
- “Free” Trial Offcers: The service or product is free for awhile, but you must opt out later to avoid monthly billings.
- The Email Claims to Be From the FBI: Often the “address” includes “Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crime Division.” One such email was addressed: “Dear Beneficiary” and offered help in obtaining a “fund.” The FBI is an investigative agency responsible to the U.S. Department of Justice. It does not resolve financial disputes or secure monies for “deserving” recipients. If the FBI wants to contact you, it will do so by letter or by sending agents to your address. The FBI’s own website states: “At this time we do not have a national e-mail address for sending or forwarding investigative information.”
- “I Need Help”: You get an email claiming to be from someone you know–who’s “in jail here in Mexico” or some other foreign country. S/he begs you to send money for bail or bribes to win his/her freedom. If you get such an email, call the person to make certain. Don’t rush to send money–chances are it will go directly to a scammer.
FBI Headquarters: Where stopping cybercrime is now a top priority.
There are several commonsense rules to follow in protecting yourself from online scammers:
- Don’t trust people you’ve never met to want to give you money.
- Shop online only with well-known merchants who have a good reputation.
- If an email from a stranger asks you to send money, don’t do it. If the sender claims to be a friend, call your friend first to make sure it came from him.
- Don’t click on unknown links–especially those in emails from unknown senders.
- If you’re required to pay an advance fee–“on faith”–to receive a big amount of money, the odds are it’s a scam.
- If you can’t find any solid information on a company, chances are it doesn’t exist.
- Under its new director, James Comey, the FBI is mounting a major effort against cybercrime. Click on its page at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber for solid advice on how to protect yourself online.
- If it sounds too good to be true, the odds are: It is untrue.