As much of a joke as those Nigerian-prince-email scams have become, people sadly fall for them. That “pay me now, you’ll get millions later” operation has been around for decades (the Boston Globe says it’s 200 years old) and has found ways to work from paper letters, emails and texts, and given that longevity, it’s probably never going to disappear.
Some scams are more cleverly designed than this one (at least, they’re less well-known and, therefore, more effective), but even the seemingly most obvious tricks find victims. When scammers succeed, they’re likely to keep searching for prey, or at least someone will try to copy their techniques. For example:
1. Grandparent Scams
Most scams are successful because they play on people’s emotions, whether they be fear, greed, desperation or concern. Grandparent scams may be the worst offenders.
Oftentimes, it involves someone calling an elderly person, claiming to be his or her grandchild, and that the kid is in trouble — they need money to get out of it. Considering many grandparents would do anything for their kids, let alone their kids’ kids, this is a particularly cruel, yet effective, operation.
2. IRS Phone Calls
If someone calls you claiming to be from the IRS and demands a payment, it’s probably in your best interest to hang up. Do not share any information with someone claiming to be the IRS. If you truly think you may have an issue with your taxes, go to IRS.gov and look up contact information there. The IRS will also not email you, so don’t fall for one of those attempted tricks, either.
3. ‘Microsoft Support Center’
This involves someone calling you saying your computer has been infected with malware, and the support staff needs to remotely access your computer to remove it and install antivirus protection.
Never let someone you don’t know remotely access your computer.
4. Disaster Scams
This one typically comes in two forms: The fake charity and the click trap. In the wake of disasters, scammers like to take advantage of consumers’ willingness to donate to victims, who can then become victims themselves. Research any organizations or charities you want to donate to, rather than the first one that pops up on social media, because there will be plenty of fake ones out there, and you want to make sure your money is used as you intended.
Then there’s the “You won’t believe this shocking video about [insert disaster name here]” approach. In times of crisis or disaster, people crave any additional information they can find — scammers bank on it. Links could be infected with malware, or you’ll be asked to enter an email address or other information to view the video, making you a potential target for email scams. The big news headline doesn’t have to be about a disaster, either — there will be plenty of scams out there in connection to the recently leaked nude photos of celebrities, as well.
5. Change Your Password Emails
You may receive an email from any number of services you use — social networks, e-commerce sites, membership associations — telling you to change your password, and such notices could certainly be legitimate. They can also be traps.
The goal of a fake “change your password now” email is for the sender (aka scammer) to gain access to the information in your email account, the account that was supposedly compromised or learn your new or old password, with the hope you use that password elsewhere, and the ill-intentioned person spying on you can use it to hack into other accounts of yours.
A good first step in this instance is to change the password to your email account, which is essentially the master key to your online life. Then you should independently change the password for whatever account was supposedly compromised — don’t go through the email you received or click any links in it. It may be an abundance of caution, or it could save you from getting phished. (Learn more about phishing here.)
You want to first change your email password, because in the event your email account has been compromised, anyone looking in it would see the notifications of password changes from other accounts, and you don’t want to tip anyone off to a new password. You don’t want anyone to have access to your email account in the first place, but that’s just one of the bad things that can happen if you go about changing passwords on other sites before securing your email.
6. Fake Debt Collection Calls
Getting a phone call from a legitimate debt collector is generally an unpleasant experience, so hearing from a scammer is considerably worse. Scammers tend to be threatening and relentless in their pursuit, so try to stay calm and ask a few questions. Unfortunately, some real collectors can be as unruly as fake ones, but remember you’re entitled to a written confirmation of any debt sent to a collector, and if the caller refuses to provide one, you’re likely dealing with a fraud. It seems these people never tire of calling strangers and shaking them down for fake debts, so familiarize yourself with some of the signs you’re dealing with a scammer.
7. Calls About Lowering Your Credit Card Interest Rates
Most consumers are thrilled to save money and will jump at a chance to do so. That’s why scam callers claiming to lower your loan interest rates or other bills are so common. There are legitimate ways to lower your interest rates, like refinancing, loan consolidation or negotiating with your creditor, but you should never pay an upfront fee for reducing your loan bill.
There’s a similar scam out there for things like utility bills. Someone may call, claiming to be able to lower your monthly bill, but they need to know your account number to do so. Giving that information could allow the stranger to access your account and your personal information, as a result. It’s an easy path to identity theft from there. If you’re worried about identity theft, you should monitor your financial accounts regularly for signs of unauthorized charges. An unexpected, large change in your credit scores could also signal identity theft. You can track your credit scores every month for free on Credit.com.
These are only some of the many persistent scams out there, because as long as people fall for these tactics, scammers will recycle them.
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life