Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Word (Actually, a Bunch of Words) About Scams

Ladies, gentlemen, and anyone else reading my happy little blog: Don’t let yourselves be scammed out of whatever it is that the jerks want. Usually, it’s cash. Sometimes, though, the oxygen thieves want to make you a mule, which basically means that you get to unwittingly con other people out of their money. Oh, yeah, that sounds like a fantastic way to make society a better place, right?

I’ve done a lot of reading and researching about Internet-based scams because I’m interested in how this crap works (mostly so that I can avoid being ripped off, but also because I’m interested in a wide variety of things). My curiosity poked its head out of the shell and started sniffing around a couple of years ago when, at the bank, I saw a large sign warning people to be cautious when dealing with checks from unknown persons.

This got me on the Internet, where I did a lot more reading. I also spent a little bit of time scam baiting, mostly to see what the scammers are really trying to obtain – and, of course, how they really work. Don’t trip out. I didn’t cough up a single penny. I knew good and well that none of the anonymous douche bags who e-mailed back and forth with me were genuine, so I didn’t give them anything but the false hope that I would eventually go to Western Union and send them some cash. Up theirs.

There are lots of different scams out there. I’ll be leaving some useful links at the end of this entry so that you can go read about as many of them as possible – being forewarned and all that.

Scams work by convincing you that there’s hope. The economy blows, the future is uncertain at best, and we need to get as many preps as possible, as quickly as possible. If you invest just a little bit of money in this seemingly-good idea, you’ll have plenty, and won’t have to worry, right? Wrong. They’re scams, so you’ll be doing nothing but flushing your cash down the john.

All sorts of people fall for scams, including folks who spent a lot more time in college than I have so far. Homemakers, factory workers, doctors, teachers, teenagers…there’s no one “type” of scam victim. Even though I know that we preppers / survivalists are a suspicious, hesitant group of people when it comes to this sort of thing, a reminder is never a bad thing.

Most of us have received at least one scam e-mail. Getting these messages is almost inevitable, because there are so many scammers out there. The odds are good that at least one of them will try to rip you off.

When you receive any e-mail from a stranger, give yourself a moment to think before you open the sucker. I like using Gmail because I get a brief preview of the e-mail message, along with the subject line and the sender’s name. Usually, this little bit of information – available to me before I even open the e-mail – is enough to identify it as junk. I can happily delete the message, unread, and get on with my life.

However, you sometimes end up reading the e-mail for whatever reason. If that happens, ask yourself these questions.

One: Who is this person? Do more than read the name on the e-mail. Anyone can claim to be Bill Gates, the president of a foreign country, or an FBI agent by writing whatever he wants in these fields. Check the e-mail address: if the sender is using a Web-based account (Yahoo! Mail; Gmail; et cetera), there’s no way that he’s really from the FBI, or any large corporation. Therefore, this can’t possibly be a legitimate e-mail, and needs to be deleted without any further contemplation.

Two: Does this person want money from me? Advance Fee Fraud is a very-common genre of Internet-based scams. (They can also occur via telephone, fax, or snail mail, just so you know.) You end up sending the scammer money for an opportunity to make even more money – usually millions, because scammers like to think large. If you have to pay to see the reward, you’re probably being scammed.

Three: Does this even make sense? Think about the opportunity that the stranger is offering before you do anything else. How is it possible to win the Coca-Cola Lottery when you a) never entered; and b) can’t find any mention of this lottery on their official Web site (save, perhaps, for a warning that these lotteries are all scams)? Why would a supposedly-real business hire you, a complete stranger, to cash checks and send money back to them “for tax reasons”? Why would a stranger trust you with checks, as upfront payments, before you do anything for them? Ask lots of questions, and do everything that you can to poke holes in the story. Scams don’t make sense when you ponder them long enough.

Four: Is this too good to be true? Although some legitimate opportunities seem too good to be believable – like awesome clearance sales – most are just scams.

You should also be familiar, at least on a basic level, with the common types of scams. You need to know, for example, that scammers will e-mail you to claim that you’ve won some weird lottery that you’ve never heard anything about before. They’ll tell you that someone who died in Hurricane Katrina / the tsunami in Asia / some other disaster left a buttload of money…but your help is required to obtain it. (Yeah. Right.) They’ll tell you that they’re collecting donations for some charity that might or might not be real (find the charity’s official Web site and donate there if you really want to be helpful, or mail a check to the address listed on said, official site).

Above all else, trust your instincts. They often start shrieking to get your attention when something’s fishy. You can easily confirm that your instincts are correct by copying parts of the e-mail that you received, then pasting them into the Google search box. The scam e-mails are scripts, also called “formats,” that tons and tons of scammers use. Most of the time, Googling part of the e-mail – say, the first sentence or two – will take you to anti-scam sites that have archived quite a few of these scripts.

Useful Links:

Detailed information at - a great site to learn about other scams, as well as what to do when you receive scam e-mails.

Information for victims, and potential victims, at - a site devoted to educating the public so that the scammers have fewer people to con.

No comments:

Post a Comment

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm