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How to spot and avoid common internet and phone scams

We all like to think we can spot scams and fraud attempts. But the reality is that if it didnt work, they wouldn't keep doing it.

I personally know a family that was scammed by an African money transfer scheme, not once but twice for almost $3 Million dollars. The second time was "Interpol Fraud Recovery" that was phony as well. Here are some common scams and tips to avoid.

  • Threatening calls from creditors, medical providers or government agencies - All are fraud. If you have reason to believe they are legitimate, ask them to send you written confirmation in the mail, but DO NOT GIVE THEM YOUR ADDRESS or SSN or Date of Birth! They should already know it. If they dont, its likely a scam.

  • Your Computer has a Virus! Almost always a scam. It may look like a pop-up window on your computer, or a new website page. If you call them, they will claim to need access to your computer and provide you with fake credentials. Best case is you get dinged with a $199 yearly charge for "support services." Worst case is that they leave behind a key-logger to capture all of your passwords as you enter them into your browser. Do not ever give anyone remote access to your computer (except Apple/Microsoft or someone you trust, and even then only if you initiated the request). No legitimate company will ask you to call them for virus support. You should already have a decent virus detection system installed, and only respond to messages specifically from that program. One I like that is top rated and free is Avast ( )

  • Someone in your family is in trouble! My own mother had this happen to her. Called by "her granddaughter in jail in Italy, and to send money and not tell mom/dad." They use probing techniques to get you to say names and then repeat them for validation. Money is usually requested via gift cards. Speaking of gift cards...

  • Any request to transfer money via gift cards. Its always a scam. My father-in-law was scammed by this scheme in transferring several hundred dollars in Best Buy gift cards for some "don't tell anyone" play. It got so bad that Best Buy now has a policy to triple verify gift card purchases for high-target people.

  • Phishing for your financial information or passwords. This includes any "your account has been blocked", or "Please verify this information", "update your account information to prevent service interruption", or confirm your package delivery", etc. These are tough to identify, but the best way to verify is to inspect the link on the email. Emails that have most of there text inside the graphics is a good sign that they are trying to sidestep your email's spam filters. If you click on the link look very carefully at the website address it sent you to. The first part of the link should be EXACTLY the same as the target company. Sometimes they will change the company name with a dash, or a letter with a number and redirect you to another bad site to steal your info. If the email is suspect, its best to log directly into the target website directly without clicking on any link.

  • The best way to determine if the website is fake is to use your browser's built in password storage. If you have logged into the legitimate website recently, and you saved your login credentials, then the email should link you to a website your browser recognizes. If it doesnt recognize it, its possibly a scam site.

  • Calling party information verification. If you get a call from anyone, no matter who it is, and they would like you to confirm you are by answering questions, its fraud/scam. They called you, and should know who you are. Never ever give out personal information to anyone unknown that calls you.

  • Congratulations, you have won a free trip/cruise/car/tv, etc" - Always a scam. If you really won, they will contact you in a very professional manner, identify how you won, and follow up with regular mail. Ask your friends/family for a second look if you think you are the extremely rare exception. Oh, by the way, if you do somehow win a prize, it is considered income and you will have to pay tax on it at the extreme high-end evaluation of the prize. I learned this the hard way by winning grand prize in mars candy bar sweepstakes. Two round trip tickets from anywhere in USA to USA, were valued at $10,900. Thats $3000 in taxes for tickets worth about $1000.

  • I'm local so I must be legitimate. Could be another scam. Fraudsters are now using local numbers or fake Caller-ID identifiers to further support their stories. Dont rely on this information as a validator for legitimacy.

  • Your Adobe Flash needs updating! This is a false alert and it will lead you to install dangerous versions of Flash. Flash is no longer supported and should be removed from your computer. If you have installed a possibly dangerous version in the past, run a full/deep scan from your Virus software to see if you have been infected.

  • For more information or if you want to report a scam/fraud attempt, visit the FTC website at

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