Written by Christy Frost
Last month I received a suspicious email from my seventy-six year old dad’s email account. In the email, he asked me to wire him money so he could buy a gift for his niece. This didn’t sound right. I immediately assumed his account had been hacked and called my parents to alert them. By the time I reached them, just minutes after I received the fraudulent email, I discovered my parents had already been contacted by many other concerned family members and friends – all of whom also received the suspicious email from my dad.
The next two days were spent changing passwords and closing accounts – a total headache. In the process, my dad remembered that about a week prior, he had received an email from what he thought was his email service provider, asking him to update the information on his account. He did. And that was the event that sent everything into motion.
Now, my dad is a smart guy who had a very successful career. He’s educated, reads several newspapers each day and is up to date on current events. He and my mom are savvy with technology too – they email, text the grandkids, have social media accounts, pay bills online, etc. So, it got me thinking– if my dad could fall prey to one of these scams, really anyone could. Scammers are getting smarter and bolder. Protect yourself by being aware of these five red flags when you receive a phone call, check your email or use social media.
Red Flag #1: They Make An Identity Claim
Many scammers utilize strategies where they claim to be trustworthy sources, such as a government agency, your bank, or in my dad’s case, your email service provider, in order to extrapolate information from you. If you receive a strange call, text or email with an unfamiliar hyperlink, this is a telltale sign you’re being scammed. Never click on mysterious hyperlinks or respond to uncertified messages asking for your personal information, especially if it involves money. If you’re unsure about the authenticity, click on the sender email address to see if it looks legitimate, or better yet, call the company to see if they sent out an email asking for your information. In most cases, the answer will be ‘no.'
Red Flag #2: They Need Your Personal Information Immediately
A scammer’s goal is to get your personal information as quickly as possible – and they love to prey on people’s fear. A scammer will often state they need information or money immediately or something terrible will happen. The “Grandparent scam” is an example of this. In this scenario, someone contacts the victim claiming to be a family member in trouble or a person of authority representing the relative in trouble. They then ask for money and/or personal information. Be aware of this behavior and know that a genuine source would never require you to reveal personal information in this manner.
Red Flag #3: You Must Wire Money
Once a scammer receives money from you, their goal is to disappear with it, becoming extremely hard to track. If an entity is asking you to send money via a wire transfer, gift card or reload pack, this is likely a scam. This type of fraudulence was a byproduct of the original scam my dad fell prey to. Because he provided his personal information to the fake email company, they, in turn, were able to send out an email to everyone in his address book posing as him and asking for money via wire transfer.
Red Flag #4: It Doesn’t Apply
This is one of the more obvious strategies. For instance, a scammer may contact a teenager about car insurance when the teenager doesn’t even own a car in their name. Nonetheless, the frightening and urgent language of the call could get them stuck in an uncomfortable conversation with someone who is, in all likelihood, a scammer. If somebody approaches you with an offer or issue that clearly does not apply to you, get out of the situation as quickly as possible.
Red Flag #5: It’s Too Good To Be True
Unfortunately, getting a really good deal on something is often a sign that it may be a scam. A scammer will promise you something that seems far too good to be true as a way to draw you in. Even if a scammer’s website seems extremely official or a scammer approaches you in person looking very professional, that’s often just a front to gain trust. Always stay wary of untrustworthy sources, and if you seem to be getting too good of a deal on insurance or even something as big as a house or car, do more research on the identity of the source.
It’s much easier to get scammed than one would think. Make sure you’re aware of the telltale signs and avoid allowing your fear to get the best of you in these situations. As my family discovered in my dad’s case, getting scammed can be a taxing, and sometimes costly, ordeal. Remember it’s OK to be suspicious and guarded. As they say, better safe than sorry.