How to Spot a Scam

Let’s accept the fact that scammers are lurking everywhere. This has always been the case. What has changed are the tools that they use to cheat people out of money, information and whatever else they want to target.

Let's accept another fact -- we are not going to quit using the internet, email, social media, or our phones. Our lives will continue to be more connected and our information will always be at risk.

We want to help you know how to spot a scam. Here are some of the more popular methods scammers are using these days.

Phishing, Smishing & Vishing, Oh My!

Scary, huh? These three scam methods run on the same premise where a message appears to come from a well-known company.

  • Phishing - typically an email, common request
  • Vishing - Voice over the phone - Often claiming to be from a bank or credit card company, the IRS or insurance company.
  • Smishing - same as the others, but sent through a text message. Often claims to be a financial institution, a gift card for a popular store or a sweepstakes requesting you to text or call a number to provide personal information.

The recipe the scammers use is typically the same. Spot these ingredients and you should throw it in the trash:

  1. Generic greeting and poor grammar.
  2. Spoof links and no site security - The links in these scams go to spoof pages that may look just like where you thought you were supposed to go. Always look for https: before entering any personal information and check that the main URL matches the site you think you are going to.
  3. Requests for personal information - If you did not initiate the conversation, a request for personal information is a major red flag.
  4. Sense of Urgency - Scammers prey on people by creating a sense of urgency and anxiety that makes people put down their guard.

##Pharming, with a PH Pharming gets lumped in with the other digital methods mentioned above but is different in that there is no enticing trick to click. Instead, pharming utilizes viruses to infect a machine and redirect someone from a legitimate site to an impostor site that will steal the information when entered. Prevent this by having up-to-date antivirus software and paying close attention when you visit sites where you're asked to provide your information. If it doesn't look right, stop and double check. Use these tips to protect your devices.

I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

That is not just a classic Beatles song but scammers are using text, email, social media and phone calls claiming to be from the IRS demanding money and/or sensitive personal information. This type of scam seems to be getting worse and some are going as far to file fake tax returns, causing a mess when the victim tries to submit their real return.

The IRS states that they will never reach out to people via email or text and if you receive a call that you are suspicious about, do not provide any information and call the 1.800.366.4484.

The IRS also implemented a new security feature that some taxpayers are able to use to protect their information and avoid fraudulent tax return filing. See if you qualify to obtain an Identity Protection PIN.

Help fight back against scammers by reporting potential fraud via the FTC Complaint Assistant.

I roll with royalty

Ever get that email that some prince has a stack of cash that they want to share with you because you are so awesome? Dreams do come true! Unfortunately, not in this case. That foreign dignitary, long lost relative, foreign lottery you don’t remember entering or that person on Craigslist that had some odd requests to pay for your grandmother’s coffee table are not real. They are all trying to run a variation of the advanced fee scam. You have millions of dollars waiting for you, all you need to do is pay some fees or cash this bogus check and wire some money to us. This scam continues to work and always will because it plays on people’s dreams of being wealthy. These scams are also hard to stop because the perpetrators usually live overseas and bringing them to justice is near impossible.

Martians landed… and gave everyone ice cream!

Ever see that story on Facebook that is so unbelievable? Well there is a good reason. At a minimum these fake stories encourage people to come visit a site with a fake or at least partially inaccurate article and the site is loaded with ads designed to get people to click. However, some scammers go further and create fake Facebook or other social media login pages that imply you need to login to read the content. Do so and you now provided your credentials for someone to go and spam people with your account.

If something is too good to be true, it probably is and curiosity killed the cat. Popular clichés are spot on for spotting and protecting yourself from scammers. Treat your personal information like you would a child, do not give it to anyone you are not familiar with and trust.