Common scams people still fall for all the time

Stressed and busy, it’s easy to let your guard down—and that’s when fraudsters pounce

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The top site for clas­si­fied ads in the U.K. con­duct­ed a study recent­ly that should send a wave or two to this side of the Atlantic. When it comes to scams, it’s all about the bait. Gumtree found that even with the fore­thought that a list­ing was a scam, more than a third of their users would still go ahead with a transaction

Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

It doesn’t mat­ter where they hap­pen. Scams are as inter­na­tion­al and ubiq­ui­tous as the human capac­i­ty to be tricked. And while some scams are super­no­va dumb, that does not always mean that most peo­ple who fall for them are.

Scams rely on a sim­ple fact of life: Peo­ple are busy. Most of us aren’t Zen mas­ters of med­i­ta­tion. It’s hard to ful­ly occu­py each and every moment because we lead dis­trac­tion-filled lives. We’re not con­stant­ly up on the fire tow­er scan­ning the hori­zon for smoke, and that’s a good thing.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are some real slime­balls out there who rely on this prob­lem of ours.

Here are some recent scams that are mak­ing the rounds:

Ama­zon phish­ing scam

In this scam, you get an email from Ama­zon. It informs you that there’s been a prob­lem of some sort. Don’t focus on what sort, because it’s these nuances that will get you got. If you get an email from Ama­zon telling you that there’s been a prob­lem with an order, or that a recent order was can­celed, it’s time to focus. It could be a scam.

How it works: There’s a link in the email that leads to a site that looks iden­ti­cal to Ama­zon, but you’re not any­where near the site. The scam­mers are look­ing to get your per­son­al infor­ma­tion to use in the com­mis­sion of iden­ti­ty theft, and your finan­cial infor­ma­tion to drain your cred­it card or bank account.

What to do: Vis­it your Ama­zon account by log­ging in direct­ly. Do not use the link in the scam phish­ing email.

Smish­ing scams

Smish­ing isn’t ter­ri­bly dif­fer­ent from phish­ing, but if you’re not expect­ing at least the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a smish­ing text, you might fall for it. The text arrives and appears to be from your bank. It could be from your inter­net provider. Gen­er­al­ly, it’s from some­where that can neg­a­tive­ly impact your life, and that also would be in pos­ses­sion of your mobile digits.

How it works: The smish­ing text informs you that some­one has tried to access your account or it’s been frozen, and your pass­word or some oth­er data needs to be updat­ed. There’s a link to use where you can authen­ti­cate your­self by enter­ing your per­son­al infor­ma­tion (for exam­ple, your Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber), and secure your account.

What to do: If you reg­u­lar­ly use your smart­phone to access the inter­net, bear in mind that there are hid­den dan­gers every­where, and pause before you pounce on text warnings.

The one-ring scam

This one is sim­ple. Your phone rings once. That’s it. The scam relies on a cou­ple things, though. First, there’s a curios­i­ty fac­tor. Sec­ond, there’s the very real pos­si­bil­i­ty that most peo­ple have not mem­o­rized every area code used in the Unit­ed States. But for­get that, because caller ID can be gamed with a spoofed phone num­ber. Here’s what you need to know: Your phone rang once.

How it works: You call back the num­ber, and you’re auto­mat­i­cal­ly charged for a ser­vice that you didn’t want, or mon­ey is oth­er­wise sucked out of your phone account to appear at the end of the billing cycle.

What to do: If your phone rings once, assume the con­ver­sa­tion that didn’t hap­pen wasn’t worth hap­pen­ing. Wait for whomev­er called to leave a mes­sage, and nev­er (ever) return fire.

Sweep­stakes scam

You get a phone call from some­one very cheer­ful, and maybe even a lit­tle breath­less in the deliv­ery of their blue-sky greet­ings. You’ve just won the Pub­lish­ers Clear­ing­house Sweep­stakes. You’re a mil­lion­aire or a $500,000-aire. The prize patrol is 20 min­utes away, so get dressed and be ready for your pho­to op with a beach tow­el-sized check.

How it works: This scam preys on the won­der­ful human trait that, no mat­ter how our day or month or year is going, hope springs eter­nal. Part of your prep for the prize patrol, how­ev­er, requires that you pay the pro­cess­ing fee upfront. There could be many expla­na­tions for it, but the bot­tom line is you’re going to have to spend mon­ey to col­lect the prize.

What to do: Hang up, and don’t both­er chang­ing your clothes. If you real­ly have mon­ey com­ing to you from the sweep­stakes or lot­tery, they are legal­ly oblig­at­ed to get it to you.

IRS phone scam

You get a phone call from the IRS, which is not entire­ly far­fetched because Con­gress direct­ed the IRS to col­lect back tax­es with help from col­lec­tion agen­cies. So, you could get a legit­i­mate call from one of these four col­lec­tion agen­cies: CBE Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa; Con­serve of Fair­port, New York; Per­for­mant of Liv­er­more, Cal­i­for­nia; or Pio­neer of Horse­heads, New York.

How it works: The caller says you owe tax­es, and if you don’t pay you’re going to be arrest­ed (or some oth­er bad thing will hap­pen). Pay­ment can only be made through a pre­paid deb­it card or gift card, because of the par­tic­u­lar kind of hell you cre­at­ed with your fic­tion­al bad behav­ior. You are informed that the pur­chase of what­ev­er card you are told to buy is linked to the Elec­tron­ic Fed­er­al Tax Pay­ment System.

What to do: Hang up and wait for a let­ter from the IRS noti­fy­ing you of the sit­u­a­tion, or call the IRS direct­ly to inquire about any tax­es you may owe.

The grand­par­ent scam

Here’s one that doesn’t prey on the atten­tion deficit dis­or­der called dai­ly life, but rather, it plays on the heart­strings. This scam relies on the shar­ing of infor­ma­tion on social media, and the uni­ver­sal inabil­i­ty among some peo­ple to rec­og­nize a relative’s voice.

How it works: A tar­get­ed grand­par­ent gets a call ask­ing for emer­gency funds, either direct­ly from the grand­child who is actu­al­ly a scam­mer armed with fam­i­ly names gleaned from your social media account—or some­one rep­re­sent­ing them (a lawyer, bail bonds­man, police offi­cer). The sto­ry is good. All scam­mers are good sto­ry­tellers. The ask is doable. They need mon­ey wired now.

What to do: Nev­er wire mon­ey unless you are absolute­ly cer­tain where and to whom it’s going. If pos­si­ble, dou­ble-check a request with anoth­er rel­a­tive. If you’re told secre­cy is nec­es­sary (because a par­ent or sib­ling will be mad), just say no. Big­ger pic­ture advice: Don’t over­share. Set your pri­va­cy as tight as it will go, and don’t let peo­ple tag you in pho­tos. And while it’s hard to sift through these days, get rid of any friends on social media who aren’t actu­al­ly friends. Per­haps you should use this as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to prune a few friends, too. You know, the ones that are always ask­ing you for money.

There are more scams hap­pen­ing all the time, and no way to chron­i­cle every one of them. But the base­line behav­ior of paus­ing and think­ing for a moment, “Could this be a scam?” is your best pro­tec­tion to keep fraud­sters at bay.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its partners.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?