written by: Aaron R.•edited by: Brian Nelson•updated: 4/19/2011
This article provides guidelines to help recognize and avoid online scams. If you want to stay safe in the information age, then you'll need to have this information.
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Recognizing a Scam When You See One
Scams are a kind of fraud. The term refers to an intent to hide or disguise the source of an offer to make it look as if it originated from a legitimate source. The Internet is particularly bad about this, due to the lack of human interaction and low cost of making fraudulent offers. An Internet user should ask themselves if they would consider a received offer if it was given to them in their mail, a parking lot or through a phone call.
Many scams have features that can identify them as illegitimate offers. If only one of the identifying features is present, it is better to protect yourself by refusing the offer than to take the chance of losing your money or having your identity stolen. It is better to be safe than sorry. Here are some tips for spotting them before it's too late.
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Some Internet scams require you to pay front money disguised as processing fees, taxes or registration fees before you can receive whatever was promised. Sometimes they pretend to complete the deal or transaction, but then ask you to deposit money or return money than "isn't yours". Sometimes they simply lie about the product or service, take your money and leave you with nothing for your money. If you can’t verify from independent sources or are asked not to check out the company, its website, salesperson, product or service, then you know something isn’t right and you probably should avoid the offer or advertisement.
Never send money by Western Union or other wire transfer service to someone you don't know. Thieves prefer these money transfer methods because they are almost impossible to trace. Few legitimate businesses use Western Union as a payment method for U.S. customers.
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No Legitimate Guarantees
Also check for phony guarantees. There aren’t any legitimate guarantees, verbal or in writing, for fast or extravagant profits, for credit when local lenders refuse, of a scientific breakthrough that can’t be found anywhere else or substantial income for little effort. When you are being pressured by a salesperson or company representative to complete the transaction right now or "before time runs out", something is not right. If the offer features "insider" or "confidential information", avoid it like the plague. Any legitimate representative of a business doesn’t offer insider secrets to the general public. In fact, insider trading of secrets or assets is illegal in the USA and many other countries.
Scams presented on the internet, in email, over the phone, in person or through the mail, are as varied as people and it's important to learn how to spot one. Fraudulent offers can be obvious or difficult to recognize depending on the intended target’s perception of the presentation. Try to be aware that scams try to separate you from your money and/or identification. So, “if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is".
If you'd like to learn more about online scams beyond these basic rules, please consult any of our articles on phishing or online fraud.