While scams and fraud via the internet are relatively new when compared to some of the oldest tricks in the book, most online scams tend to take similar forms. Scammers have found a few systems that are the equivalent of “golden oldies” that work more often than not. By reading up on some of the most common types of online scams listed below you can be confident that you’re in the know, and can head off risky situations before it’s too late.
Non-Delivery or Non-Payment Scams
One of the most common scenarios fraudsters will use is also the simplest – they simply don’t send the money or goods. The easiest way to protect against these types of scams is to use an online escrow service like PaySAFE. With escrow, funds are held with a neutral third party until there is proof that the item has shipped or has arrived for a final inspection. Sellers are also protected as all funds are verified and held in advance – completely removing the risk of non-payment.
Advance Fee Fraud
Most commonly executed via email, these scams will ask the recipient to wire funds or mail a check as an advance on any item of value. This could be for potential prize winnings, cars or trucks, or supposed lump sums of cash from long lost relatives. The rub is that there is no item of value for the recipient to receive, and any money sent to the scammer will be lost and gone forever.
Seen frequently on online auction and classified sites like ebay or Craigslist, overpayment fraud starts with a supposed interested buyer winning and auction or making an offer on your classified listing. The fraudster will then mail a check for payment, but has accidentally written the check for too much money and would like the seller to simply wire back the overage. Being a goodhearted seller, you gladly wire back the overpayment only to find that, by the time the buyer’s check clears, there were no funds actually in the buyer’s account. You’re now out the merchandise you sold and however much the overage was for.
Law Enforcement Scams
Another common email scam, the sender will pose as a law enforcement officer and let you know that they’ve found a significant sum of money that you’re entitled to. The biggest tip off that these emails are scams is generally the email address of the sender. Official members of any law enforcement officer acting on behalf of their agency will not be sending messages from yahoo, hotmail, or gmail email addresses. When in doubt, look for email addresses that end with @____.gov. It’s also smart to call the agency mentioned in the message and ask to speak to the person who sent you the supposed email.
Hacked Email Scams
Recently there has been an uptick in scams originating from email accounts that have been compromised by hackers. These hackers will commandeer an unsuspecting person’s email account, and then send messages to a few contacts within the account claiming to have been mugged while on vacation. The scammers will then ask you to wire them a little cash to get them through until their credit/debit cards are reactivated. When in doubt, try to contact your friend directly, or that friend’s spouse or other relative.
Avoiding online scams can be easier than you think. Taking a minute to pause when you receive a questionable email, or making a short phone call to a respective agency or friend to confirm a message can be all it takes to save yourself both time and hassle. And remember, when it seems to good to be true it probably is.
For more information on how you can protect yourself against online fraud and scams see our posts on spotting craigslist auto scams, and what to do if you’ve already become a victim of a scam.