You should trigger your scam avoidance thoughts in any of the following circumstances:
- You are being offered something for seeming nothing, or for a very small outlay.
- You are being asked to make an outlay in advance of you receiving whatever it is that is being offered.
- You are being invited to be let in on a secret.
- You have been ‘chosen’ to be let in on an extraordinary deal.
- You are being told to act quickly.
- You are being told you’ve ‘won’ a competition or lottery when you didn’t even buy a ticket. (And even if you did buy a ticket, you’ll never be asked to pay anything up front.)
- Any request for you to give bank details.
- Any request for you to move your money from one account to another.
- You get an e-mail out of the blue (or one forwarded supposedly or naively by a friend), and it asks you to download something, or to press some further links.
- Someone you don’t know offers to buy an old electronic device.
Of course not every such circumstance is a scam. We often pay for something up front, for example. However usually when we do so, we have a direct comeback route should something go wrong. Should a well-recognised company not provide us with the product or service we have paid for, there are avenues to pursue. Not least of which is the fact that we can damage their reputation, on the assumption that it is reasonably good – if it wasn’t then maybe you should think twice about buying from them. However when you order products or services from someone you don’t know, and you don’t have a very clear route to recompense should something go wrong, then you must accept that you are at risk and ensure you limit your risk exposure.
Tactics Used by Scammers
Scammers frequently tap into human behavioural tendencies and cognitive biases.
Use of Accomplices
A scammer will often work with one or more accomplices who will be posing as bystanders or fellow potential customers. They may deliberately appear sceptical at first and then ‘be persuaded’ by such a great deal. We have a tendency to let our guard down if we feel we are in ‘good company’.
Pretence of Authority
Most people have a tendency to defer to authority, so scammers will often make themselves appear authorative, either through deliberately claiming to be something they are not, or through simply giving a strong impression that they are something they are not.
Appeal to Greed or Self-Interest
Many people want something for nothing, and if they think they are getting something for nothing, or at least for far less than it is worth, then they are susceptible to being manipulated. The scammer for example might make the person being scammed think they know something the scammer doesn’t. Or the scammer might hint that the proposal is not entirely legal or ethical, suggesting that it is their willingness to take advantage of an illegal or unethical action that is giving rise to the ability to take advantage.
Scammers often place time pressures, by claiming a deal is only available for a limited period of time. People’s reasoning skills are often weaker under time pressure and they revert to instinct or predictable patterns of thought which are more prone to manipulation.
Scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated about use of information they already have. Thus e-mails might be highly personalised, claiming to be from friends, or friends of friends, or from some other organisation you have dealings with.
Look at all the satisfied customers
A scammer may be able to provide examples of highly satisfied customers. On the assumption that this is not simply falsehoods, which in some cases it might be, then bear in mind that it may well be true that there are satisfied customers. This however doesn’t mean all customers were satisfied, or indeed that a very high percentage of customers were satisfied. Pyramid schemes have satisfied participants. However they have many many more unsatisfied participants. Just because you haven’t heard about the unsatisfied customers or participants doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It is often the unsatisfied people who you don’t hear about, they might just want to forget the whole experience, or might not want to expose the fact that they have been taken in. Whereas someone who has gained significantly from a scheme may be only too willing to talk about their gains, and possibly how clever they have been.
Casinos are highly skilled in giving the impression that everyone is a winner. Large winnings are noisy proclaimed, whilst losses are, for the most part, silently borne.
Miracle healers loudly cite examples of those who have improved after being to see them, and are of course silent on those who may actually have gotten worse. People’s health improves or deteriorates to some extent based upon chance. People who are very ill sometimes get better without any particular intervention, and people who are seemingly well sometimes become very ill quickly through no particular fault of their own. After seeing a miracle healer some people will improve and some will get worse. Thus the fact that the miracle healer can then point to some who have dramatically improved after having seen them is not miraculous but just the normal day to day manifestation of normal probabilistic processes.
If we take multiple surveys or customer tests, particularly if they are relatively small sample sizes, we will get varying results. Put all together they will provide a much larger sample size and if the sample size if relatively large will approximate to the underlying results. Any one small sample size result however will be atypical. Yet those looking to portray a given viewpoint can readily choose only those samples which conform to what they want to portray. They may make excuses for excluding those that don’t conform, or just simply ignore them. How often do we see an advert which says 89% of those surveyed said this was an excellent product? Is that all those ever surveyed or just one of a number of surveys?
Bias creeps in, or sometimes barges in, with regards the means by which we choose who to sample. If we ask those who go to church whether or not they believe in God we will generally get a higher percentage than if we were to ask those randomly chosen off the street. Were those surveyed who gave our 89% approval rating for a given product truly chosen in some random manner, or where they those who were in any case most likely to be satisfied, eg. those who responded to a survey which in the first place they would only have heard about if they were already interested in the product, and secondly the manner in which they were asked to response itself would have biased them towards giving a positive response.
How to make a random mailshot appear prescient
Consider the following: I send a mailshot to 10,000 people saying I can predict some future binary event, say which of two teams or two persons will win some big sporting event, or whether the stock market will go up or down over the next month. And I tell them in a very confident tone. Only I give half one answer and the other have the other answer. For 5,000 of the mailshots I will have got it right, and maybe piqued their interest. The other 5,000 will have simply dismissed me as a nutcase and stuck me from their thoughts. I then send those I got it right a further mailshot with a further prediction. Again, I will get it right for half of them. Thus for 2,500 I have made two high confident statements in a row. And again for a third time, and possible a forth. I now have a relatively large number of people some of whom will be highly impressed by my fortune-telling skills, and now is the time to cash in with asking them to bet through me on some future event. Has this technique been used for real? Probably not explicitly as described, after all it is likely word will leak out. But similar techniques of presenting those outcomes which were positive and ignoring or suppressing those that weren’t, is very frequently used, and we need to be on the look out for it, and when presented with seeming miracle results think through whether or not they could be explained through some analogous manner.
You’re told that you’ve won a prize in a competition that you haven’t even entered. To claim the prize you have to pay an administration fee. You pay the fee and either get back nothing or something less than the fee you’ve paid. 22,000 people replied to one particularly successful scam mail shot and sent £500,000 in one day.
You receive correspondence or voice mail or some other communication telling you to ring a number to claim some prize or gift. But the number is a premium rate number and you are paying a very high price simply to be on the phone. And of course the responses to your call will be aimed at keeping you on line for as long as possible.
You see an advertisement offering work which you can do at home, for example, stuffing envelopes or putting together home assembly kits. You’re asked to pay a fee upfront and then find there’s no work on offer, or you only get paid if you get others to sign up, or you do the work but there is some excuse for why you are not paid for it. Thus you may assemble a kit, and are then told the work isn’t up to standard and you won’t be paid, or you are paid far less than you expected to be.
A genuine home-working scheme won’t ask you to pay money upfront and will explain in writing what you are expected to do, how much you will earn, and when you will be paid. You should also be paid at least the national minimum wage.
An offer for cures based on new scientific breakthroughs, often relating to health issues such as diabetes, arthritis, or to help you lose weight. Often accompanied by quotes or reports from doctors and references from happy customers. If there truly were genuine scientific breakthroughs you would have heard about it through normal news channels. Any such ‘cures’ are worthless and may even be dangerous.
An offer for a large fee if you can help someone transfer money out of a country. You are asked for your bank details.
Or you are asked to pay some upfront fee for something seemingly worth far more than you are being asked to pay. You pay, but you then don’t get what you were promised, or if you do it will be worth far less than whatever you’ve paid up front.
There are circumstances in which someone may give you a cheque, but ask for some money before you get the opportunity to cash it. When you do try to cash the cheque you find it is worthless.
When sending someone a cheque for goods or services remember that your cheque could be altered. Ensure you are sending your cheque to someone or an organisation you are confident about.
You might be contacted by someone claiming you have an unpaid bill or otherwise owe money, and be threatened with legal action or having your credit rating impacted. Scammers could impersonate some legal representative or the police.
Offers to buy shares in a company you’ve never heard of, or an invite to invest in some goods such as fine wines that are supposedly ‘guaranteed’ to rocket in price. Even if you receive shares and goods they will be worth, and will remain worth, far less than you’ve paid up.
A common way for scammers to get a lot of personal data about you, which can then be used in support of identity fraud or for a more personalised approach to you, is through asking you to complete a survey. This might be accompanied by an ‘offer’ of a monetary reward or vouchers. Again be sure you don’t give any bank details to supposedly enable them to credit you with the reward.
Sites which look like other sites, such as bank or auction sites or a site selling event tickets or holidays, but which are set up to trick you into giving up your bank details, or to pay for goods which you either don’t receive or if you do receive something it is worth far less than you would have paid for. Some such sites can look very convincing. Be wary of following links to such sites. Best to type in the known addresses of sites directly into your browser. And be sure you know the precise address: scammer have been known to use similar addresses on the basis that some people will mistakenly think they’ve entered the correct address.
You get an invite to a presentation at a hotel or elsewhere where there is ‘no commitment to buy’ but you are guaranteed some free gift. These will often be about timeshare, though the terminology will be different, or some expensive holiday. Whilst you will not be literally forced to sign up, there will be strong psychological pressures, including possibly fake fellow attendees being seen to talk about what a great deal it is. And the free gift may itself by something of a scam – a voucher, for example, offering a deal worse than you might have got elsewhere.
Be wary of scratch cards which are not from reputable sources. Scratch cards posted through your door or which are handed out to you on the street could well be aimed solely at getting you to get in contact in a way that enables you to be scammed such as ringing some premium telephone number. Be very wary of easy wins from unknown sources.
Any request supposedly from your bank, police, or other organisation, involving you giving any or your bank details or for you to transfer money
You could be contacted by phone, by post, by e-mail, or even by someone calling at your door asking for you to provide financial information or to transfer money, possibly saying you are at risk or have been the victim of a scam. If you are contacted in these ways and asked to give any financial information to take action then it is very likely to be a scam. If you are unsure, get directly in contact with your bank through calling in at one of their branches, or ringing them using a number you know to be genuine.
Note that if you bank believes you have been or may have been the victim of a scam or fraud, they may well ask you to confirm that a given transaction was genuine, however they will ask you to get in contact through your normal contact route, not through one they provide. In particular a genuine contact from your bank or financial service provider:
- Will never email or text you a link that they expect you to then use
- Will never email or text you asking for your security details, card details, or pins or passwords
Note that a particular tactic is to ring you, and then ask you to ring off and contact your bank or other institution. In fact when you think you have rung off, they have stayed on the line in a way that when you then ring what you think is your bank in fact you are talking still to the scammers who then scam you into taking action or giving away information.
Many scammers are targeting those aged 55 or over who are now able to release some of their pension funds early. Be very wary of any unsolicited approach and remember they are acting in their interests, not yours, and there are no magic money making schemes that are guaranteed to dramatically increase your money through investments, at least not without very high risks involved. If you are potentially interested in releasing some of your pension funds then get advice from persons you approach knowing they are reputable advisors, not from those who have contacted you. In particular note that there are significant tax penalties in releasing funds early, and also that you can’t spend it twice. Taking pension money early means it won’t be there when you need it in your older age.
Looking to get you to inadvertently download software that will allow them to access information on your computer.
Be wary of following someone else’s links to websites, unless you are on what you know to be a reputable website. Note that fake websites can look very realistic, and you can believe you are on them. If you are being invited to go to another website through a link and you have any reason to be suspicious, and default to being suspicious, type the address for yourself in your web browser.
Schemes which you are invited to join by friends or some post or e-mail shot, whereby you are expected to invite others to join up to. You will be invited to pay some fee, with the promise of high levels of returns through getting others to join up. There may be some product involved which claims to be of some value but in reality will be very cheap and shoddy.
Dating scams occur when you think you’ve met your perfect partner online, but once they’ve gained your trust, they ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons. Such scams are very common, even for those you have gone through reputable dating agencies.
Unsolicited calls claiming there is a problem with your computer. They may claim to be from Microsoft or from your virus protector or any other organisation. They will find ways of scaring you into believing there is a genuine problem and direct you to a website from which they can scam you in some way or even gain access to sensitive information on your computer. Do not respond to any such calls. Reputable companies such as Microsoft do not make such calls.
You may get an e-mail from what appears to be genuine source requesting bank information. For example an e-mail from what looks like the Tax Office, HMRC, claiming you are owed a rebate, or from some service provider, and which asks for your bank details so that they can process the repayment. Any e-mail seemingly from a reputable organisation but asking for bank or other details is a scam. Don’t respond and don’t press any links. If you believe there may be something genuine in it, then get in touch with the relevant organisation directly, possibly logging direct on to their website and using their contact-us information.
Note that a variation on this theme is asking for your updated details because your registered credit or bank card is due to expire. This could be a phishing e-mail and be obviously so if you know your card is not about to expire, but it could by chance also come through at a time your card is due to expire giving it a seeming greater authenticity.
Beware of buying supposed tickets for events from sites you don’t know. You can readily check the authenticity of sites by googling them. If they are unreliable then you should be able to readily find this out. Don’t get fooled into having to make an instant decision. Lots of people get caught out by ticket scams where they are pressured into making a quick decision.
Being asked to do a survey can be an opening to a scam. By all means complete surveys, but don’t give any personal information away, other than that readily available such as your name and address. And be wary of them seeking further information such that they can ‘reward you’ for your participation.
Being asked to buy cheap supposedly high quality goods is likely to be a scam. You may encounter this in the street, or through someone calling at your door, or through a post or e-mail shot. Goods may look good but will often be cheap and shoddy imitations.
Regularly remind yourself:
- Any offers that appear too good to be true almost certainly are.
- Any offers that involve you paying up front with promises of returns later are likely to be a scam.
- Use anti-virus software on your computer, and keep it up to date.
- Ensure you don’t use easy to guess passwords, and don’t keep pin numbers written down with your bank cards.
- Any request for you to take urgent action right now.
- If you receive e-mails you’re not sure about don’t press any links. If you press a link it could load virus software or otherwise provide someone with access to your computer and sensitive information on it. Note that even if the e-mail was forwarded by someone you do know, they may not be aware of issues with it.
- Never pass sensitive financial information to someone you don’t know or trust. And err on the side of lacking trust. People don’t give you money for nothing, no matter how plausible they sound.
- Don’t throw sensitive financial information into the bin. There are people who will go through the rubbish from households looking for such information. You can dispose of such information by shredding it first. Or you can burn it, though don’t risk causing an uncontrolled fire. Or you could rip into different parts and dispose of parts in different ways.
- Don’t throw or otherwise get rid of old computers, or other electronic devices, with potentially sensitive information still on the hard drive. And note that it will take more than a simple ‘Delete’ to get rid of all information on your hard drive since the information will still be accessible to those who know how to do so. Either destroy the hard drive or use some special purpose software which ensures all information is destroyed.
- Don’t put sensitive financial information into letters you subsequently post. Post can be stolen or intercepted.
- Don’t e-mail sensitive financial information. E-mails can be and often are intercepted.
- Check your bank statements regularly. If there is activity you don’t recognise contact your bank.
- Don’t give out financial information over the phone. Your bank won’t ask you for such information, in particular: they will never ask for your PIN; they will never ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them or transfer money to another account, even if they say it is in your name; they will never come to your home to collect your cash, payment card or cheque book.
- If you suspect something might be a scam, search it up in your internet browser. If it is a scam it is highly likely others will have picked up on it and have been talking about it on the internet. Note however that this is far from fool proof in that it may be a new scam not yet widely reported.
- If you get a phone call from someone telling you to take immediate action then be very wary. Don’t give away sensitive information over the phone, and be aware of the scam that allows someone to stay on line after you have put your phone down.
- Note that any information you publish on social media is potentially available to anyone. Even with private settings it is possible people other than friends and family could access information.