At this point, we all know the Nigerian prince emails are bogus, but scammers are getting more sophisticated. That means you need to get more sophisticated, too. Some of my friends’ parents are buying a house right now. It’s right across from their daughter’s family (read: grandkids). These salt of the earth people have worked toward this goal for years and are investing their entire life’s savings into this home. Have you figured out where this is going? They got an email that looked legitimate about transferring $100,000 for the home purchase and they nearly fell for it. I don’t have to tell you how shaken they were by the narrow miss, but not everyone is so lucky. Your level of diligence has to exceed the scammers sneaky ways or you’re going to be vulnerable, too.
The IRS issued warnings around tax time and if you’re like me, you’re getting emails from your banking institutions, and pop-ups when you check your credit card balance. Bad actors have endless points of entry. They have text, social media, phone calls, emails, and more. It’s time to shut your web windows and lock your digital doors.
5 Things You Can do to Protect Yourself From Scammers
Block and filter as much of the junk as you can. Wireless carriers have some built-in features and you can find subscription-based services for a little extra protection. Still, some bogus links and callers will get through your filters and there’s no substitute for your diligence, so read on.
Click With Caution
Go directly to the source. We know we need to check domains and email addresses, but scammers are getting smarter about that. It’s not enough to look for the right words in the domain. Do you see the difference between WellsFargo.com and WellsFɑrgo.com? A quick glance will breeze right on by that Cyrillic A in the second example.
Before you click on anything you weren’t expecting or something that is even the tiniest bit fishy, you can go straight to the company’s website, log in, and see if you have a message that confirms the veracity of the communication. If not, it’s probably a scam. You can always call their verified phone numbers as well.
Notice the “per your request” language in the one below. Did you actually request it? If not, be very suspicious. This is an especially alluring topic because they’re talking about the recipient’s paycheck! They’re banking on it being important enough to you that you’ll click. Instead, you can reach out to your payroll representative and ask if they did indeed send it. It’s a simple and worthwhile extra step.
Still, it’s not just the alarming stuff that should give you pause. This one is a casual, lighthearted request: Just vote for your favorite snacks! I hate to say that I’d probably be more drawn in by this one than the payroll one. It looks so benign! And who doesn’t love snacks?!
Be Suspicious When Something is Overly Alarming or Appealing
Whenever you receive a notice about an urgent problem or, on the other end of the spectrum, a big reward that you need to act on right now, be very suspicious. This is what happened with the real estate transaction. They said the deal was in danger if they didn’t send their down payment. You know how much paperwork goes into buying a home? It’s easy to get a little sloppy when you’re handling that many details.
Scammers come with a false sense of urgency–like you’re gonna get thrown in jail or lose access to your account if you don’t deal with the supposed problem right now. Slow down. Talk to someone. Don’t transfer money or hand over information until you’ve at least run it by a friend or an objective party. If you’re buying a house, call your agent before you transfer money. Ask them what to expect from the process and be wary of anything outside of those expectations.
This isn’t convenient, but you can freeze your credit. It’s similar to two-factor authentication in a way. You’ll get a PIN number to unfreeze your credit whenever you need to apply for a loan or open a new card. It’s one of the most surefire ways to stave off fraudulent credit requests. It doesn’t prevent you from transferring money to a fraudulent party though, so you’re still on the hook for making sound, slow, and steady decisions.
If You See Something, Say Something
If you think you’ve been scammed or are the victim of an attempt, tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. You might help someone else or be a part of bringing accountability to a bad actor.
The Bottom Line
When a scammer comes in with alarming news or false urgency, take a deep breath and sloooooooow down a minute before clicking or transferring money. Take extra care clicking on any links in emails or texts. Limit incoming calls and texts where you can. Chances are that you, like I, know some smart people who’ve fallen (or almost fallen) for these increasingly subtle and sophisticated tactics.