Many people laugh at scams. We see an email from a mysterious stranger. The note is full of odd phrases and terrible misspellings. We instantly share it on social media. “The Prince of Nigeria wants to send me bars and bars of gold!” we write, along with laughing emoji. “Should I take it?”
But not all scams are so easy to spot. Spammers get more sinister every day, and they use legitimate-sounding email addresses, personal data, well-phrased letters, and actual corporate logos to lure their victims. The savviest con artists work remotely, coaxing money out of people they’ve never met in person.
In this era of rampant data theft and cybercrime, it’s more important than ever to be aware of swindlers’ stories because the effects can be felt for months or years. Most cons want to score fast money, but you’ll want to protect all your information from fraud, not just your credit numbers and bank accounts.
Related: Click here to learn just how many people have been targeted by telephone scams. (The percentage is shocking).
Here are some common scams and ways to defend yourself against them. You’ll want to share this know-how with your family members and friends on social media. It’s so easy to be taken by the swindlers.
1. Job Scam
Some people joke about being “between jobs,” but there’s nothing funny about unemployment. Looking for a new job is stressful, and as the weeks turn into months, you may jump at any opportunity, no matter how dubious or grim.
Scammers know this, and they prey on desperate people. They send emails with headings like, “Your Résumé” or “Work From Home Job.” At first, these sound like exciting opportunities. Can you really make $1,200 a week sitting on your couch?
Employment scams are common, and you don’t have to be jobless to find their offers enticing. Many of their targets are the unemployed or underpaid eager for a change of pace. No matter what the location or time of year, scammers find a needy victim with bills to pay.
This year, I’ve noticed a rise in two different types of job-related scams. These can look very convincing if you don’t know how to watch out for them.
Mailed Check: In this scam, you apply for a job and get a response. Your potential employer mails you a check. It'll be made out to you for $500 or so. Of course, that should be a red flag. Why would they pay you before you start working?
Reputable companies won't do that. But scammers will call you or email you to say the mailed check was their mistake. They ask you to wire the funds back to them. If you fall for it, their bad check won't cover the funds so that the money will come out of your bank account.
Upfront Fees: Some fake companies will require an “activation fee,” or even upfront costs for “training” and “materials.” If you’re dying for work, you might convince yourself that this is normal because you need to “spend money to make money.” Don’t rationalize. Legitimate employers should not require fees.
2. Vacation Scam
Many Americans get morose about vacations. They don’t have much time off, travel is expensive and complicated, and they’ll only return to mountains of unfinished work, so why bother?
So when you receive an email about an all-expenses-paid vacation package to Hawaii, you may do a double-take. Did you win some sweepstakes? Have you truly been randomly selected? Is this hotel handing out astonishing promotions?
Yes, it’s possible to win a vacation, but if you don’t remember entering a contest, run an online check. If you’ve never heard of the company offering you round-trip flights and luxury resorts, be skeptical. In this case, scammers will initiate contact with you. They may call you, send you an email or post a vacation package on Facebook. Then they’ll ask for personal data, like a credit card number to “hold the reservation.”
Never give this information away unless you know for a fact that the company is legitimate. In the meantime, vacations are healthy and life-affirming, but they are best handled on your own or through a respected travel agency.