Avoid New Scam Techniques

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Psychology of scams

A scam has two main stages: 1) a scammer provides false information and urges a potential victim to act upon it, and 2) the victim acts on the false information and transfers some benefits to the scammer. The third stage occurs when the victim realizes that he has been cheated, but the best scams are those that go undetected and try to avoid this stage in order to repeat the process. This page will examine the psychological reasons why we fall for these scams and the social engineering manipulations that cause us to divulge confidential information or perform actions that are detrimental to ourselves.

A survey by the Federal Trade Commission conducted in late 2020 and early 2020 estimated that 25.6 million Americans had been victims of fraud. The majority of these people were duped through Internet media such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet auction sites and Internet classified advertisements. The people who were most susceptible to the scams were 1) risk-takers who reacted to unsolicited Internet requests or offers, 2) grieving people who had recently experienced an injury, a divorce, a death in the family or a job loss, and 3) debtors who were desperate to escape their financial troubles.

In 2020, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 314,587 complaints about cybercrimes that cost the victims more than $617 million dollars.[1] The greatest number of complaints, 44,562 or 14.16 percent, were about FBI scams. The second largest number of complaints (8.9 percent) was about advance fee frauds which promise money to a victim if he pays an upfront fee; this type of scam is also called a 419 scam after the Nigerian penal code under which it is prosecuted. Other complaints included identification theft, credit card fraud, overpayment fraud, account hacking, and online sales where the merchandise purchased was not delivered. Many of these scams are perpetrated through unsolicited spam e-mails, but they can also be carried out by telemarketing.

Appeal to Fear
Fear can be used to manipulate attitudes. A scary message or phone call that includes a recommendation of how to take care of the problem can be crafted into a successful scam. You may get a phone call in which the caller says that he is from the “Microsoft response center” and he tells you that your computer is sending error messages that need to be fixed. The caller will try to convince you to visit a web site that will show the computer errors and then he will be pressure you to provide a credit card number to fix your computer. Don’t fall for this trick! If you visit the web site, your computer could get infected with a virus, and by visiting the site you will provide the caller with the IP address of your computer which will enable hackers to control it remotely.

Many scams use letterheads or credentials of enforcement agencies to make the threats appear genuine. The threat may be disguised as a thank you message for scheduling a direct debit payment for an exorbitant amount of money.

Example: A direct debit for $1128.65 has been charged to your card.
You get an e-mail that says: “Verizon Notification, Thank you for using verizon.com to make your scheduled direct debit payment. Payment Amount: $1128.65, Confirmation Number: 689897944.” You may become a victim of a scam if you reply to such a message or click on the links within the message. The links may take you to a website that will infect your computer with a virus. To verify the status of your account, login through the official web site of the business, but never reply or click on suspicious e-mail messages.

Example: A warrant has been issued for your arrest.
You get a message from the FBI Anti-Terrorist and Monetary Crimes Division threatening to arrest you if you do not reply back. The message explains that your identity was used to perpetrate an online international scam, and you are wanted by the FBI. However, you can make the problem go away by sending money via Western Union to the overseas address specified in the message.

Example: Your computer is sending error messages.
You visit a web page and a message like the one above warns you about a critical error or that your computer is too slow. Don’t believe it! Many advertisements are designed to make you panic so that you click on them. The little triangle on the right is displayed on Google ads; this gives you a hint that the “warning” is just an advertising gimmick.

This scam is also carried out by phone calls. A person claiming to be from Microsoft tells you that your computer is generating errors. Under the pretext of fixing your computer, the person gives you step-by-step instructions that puts malware into your computer so that it can be controlled remotely. You will then be requested to pay for the service, and later you may become the victim of identity theft or your computer files could be encrypted and held for ransom.

Example: Speeding violation.
An e-mail from the Speed Enforcement Division notifies you that a traffic camera caught your car speeding fifteen days ago on the weekend. You can avoid a court summons and avoid accumulating points on your driving record if you pay the speeding ticket within 24 hours by sending the amount of the fine to the following P.O. Box.

Example: Your email account will be terminated.
The following note is an appeal to fear designed to make the recipient divulge the user ID and password of an e-mail account. For potential victims who might hesitate to provide the information, the note gives reassurance that it is safe to send the password because it will be encrypted.
The threat: “your email account will be terminated”
The solution: Send back your user name and password within the next 12 hours.

Verizon Inc. [email protected]
to undisclosed recipients

Dear Verizon Subscriber,
Virus Notification (The following instruction should be followed within the next 12hrs)

A DGTFX Virus has been detected in your verizon.net folders. Your email account has to be upgraded to our new Secured DGTFX anti-virus 2020 version to prevent damages to our web mail log and to your important files. Click your reply tab, Fill the columns below and send back to us or your email account will be terminated to avoid spread of the virus.

User name:
Reconfirm Password:

Note that your password will be encrypted with 1024-bit RSA keys for your password safety.

All verizon.net User Should Reply Now .
Failure to do this will immediately render your Web-email address deactivated from our database.
Thank you for your co-operation.

Warning Code :ID67565434
Verizon Inc. Account Support.
Copyright В©2020

Appeal to Greed
Most people would be happy to find an investment that guarantees 11% dividends. Scams that appeal to greed exploit our desire to get reliable high returns on investments, to get something for nothing, or to make an exorbitant profit on a business deal even though the deal may be unscrupulous or illegal. Many advertisements use the word FREE in big letters to advertise a promotion, but then explain in small print the conditions of the “free” offer.

YOU ARE A WINNER. A letter, an e-mail or a telephone call announces that you have won a prize of several million dollars. When you respond, you find out that in order to collect your prize you have to pay a transfer fee or taxes. You can become a victim of the scam if you don’t ask yourself how you could have won a lottery or prize when you never entered a contest, but greed is so powerful that this thought may not surface into your consciousness. Your losses may escalate as new fees are requested to finalize the receipt of your winnings, which, of course, you will never get. As part of the scam, you may be asked to provide identification such as driver’s license and social security number which can then be used for identity theft. Prize scams are sometimes timed to coincide with promotions by legitimate sweepstakes such as the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. This enables the scam artists to pose as company agents and benefit from all the TV publicity of the real contests. These are some things to keep in mind to avoid this type of scam:

  • If you didn’t enter the contest or bought a lottery ticket, you could not have won.
  • If you have to pay anything up-front to redeem a prize, it’s a scam.
  • If you receive a partial payment check for a winning, it’s a scam.
  • If the prize is for a foreign lottery, it’s a scam because these are not open to U.S. residents.

NEED REPUTABLE PARTNER TO TRANSFER 60 MILLION DOLLARS. Your inbox has an e-mail seeking a discreet and trustworthy partner to help the widow of a deposed African dictator transfer 60 million dollars from a secret foreign account to the U.S. This widow is willing to give you 30% of this money for helping her transfer the money to your account, but you have to be discreet to prevent the authorities from freezing the assets. When you agree to the deal, you will find out that you need to provide a transfer fee to get the process going. This type of scam originated in the Internet cafes of Nigeria, but some new variants come supposedly from the widow of Libyan Leader Colonel Muammar Gahdafi who fled to Algeria.

Appeal to Curiosity
Scams that exploit curiosity provide some tantalizing message that lures the victim into providing confidential information or performing an action that will eventually be harmful. These are some e-mails associated with this scam.

  • A friend has sent you an electronic greeting card. Click on the link to open it.
  • Your nude picture was posted online. Click the link to see it.
  • Your bank account access has been suspended. Please click on this link to reset it.
  • Your check was returned for insufficient funds. Important bank information is in the attached file.
  • The Better Business Bureau received a complaint against your company. View the attached document.

The purpose of these messages is to get the victim to click on a link in the e-mail or open the attached file. Several bad things can happen. Opening an attached file from a spam e-mail can deploy malware on your computer. Clicking on a link may take you to a web site that infects your computer with malware that can steal passwords and e-mail addresses, set up your computer as a spambot, or give fake computer virus warnings that request money to fix the problem. Clicking on a link may also take you to a phishing web site that looks like the web site for your bank, but when you type your logon ID and your password you are actually giving it to the crooks with the fake web site who will promptly empty your bank account.

To avoid phishing scams, NEVER click on a link in an e-mail. If the e-mail claims to be from your bank, go to the address bar of your browser and type the website address of the bank yourself or get it from your saved favorites. Also, never open an attached file in an e-mail without doing a virus scan on it. Even when the e-mail comes from a friend, their computer could have been compromised and a spambot could have sent the infectious attachment to all e-mail addresses on your friend’s computer. Keep your antivirus software up to date.

In a malicious script scam you are asked to copy and paste text into your browser’s address bar in order to see something interesting or surprising. The text copied is actually malicious executable code that instead of showing you what was advertised, uses the account on which you are logged on to create events and pages to steal your information. The rogue code may disclose your mailing lists and send spam to your friends or change your account settings.

Don’t divulge your password or financial information
Would you give a stranger the key to your house so that they can take a look inside? Probably not because you don’t know what they might steal. However, people often provide their e-mail passwords to social media like LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. These social web sites then access your account and import your e-mail contacts in your address books. The social media use your e-mail addresses to increase their base of users and make new connections between the users.

The image below shows the LinkedIn interface that requests the password for your account in order to “confirm” it. These social websites can be very insistent and they will ask for this information every time that you login. They also encourage you to import your email contacts from Outlook or other email applications. The interface below says that they will not store your password or email anyone without your permission. However, in the very next line they say that by clicking “continue” you give them permission to send your email and password to a partner to check your e-mail contacts. In other words, you are giving them permission to logon to your account and import address book information from Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL or Hotmail. However, they could also scan e-mails that you have sent or received to look for additional email addresses that you have not saved in your address book. You can only blame yourself if you lose your privacy by providing the passwords of your accounts. Always use different passwords for your email accounts and for your social web sites, and never post financial information on social web sites. There was a case in 2020 where armed robbers broke into the home of a girl who had posted to Facebook a photo of wads of money that she had been counting for her grandmother.

Weak Passwords and PIN numbers
Computer accounts and credit cards are secured with passwords and PIN numbers. The best passwords are those that use a combination of lower case letters, upper case letters, numbers and punctuation signs. Passwords should never be words that can be found in a dictionary. Do not use passwords or PIN numbers that can be easily guessed from your birthday, your zip code, your telephone number, your occupation or your place of work. The following table has a list of the worst passwords and PIN numbers because they are easily guessed.

Worst Passwords Worst PIN numbers
password 1234
123456 1111
12345678 0000
abc123 1212
qwerty 7777

Tax Refund Theft
The way in which you find out that you have been a victim of Tax Refund Theft is when you submit your tax return and the IRS office informs you that this is a multiple tax return and that the money has already been paid out. Tax refund thieves file an electronic tax refund using your name, social security number and date of birth. They request a direct deposit to a temporary account opened in your name, or they may request the check to be mailed to a vacant home that they monitor.

This scam only works when the thieves have your personal information. How do they get it? Your name and social security number may be obtained from medical insurance forms, and your birth date is on your driver’s license. Many people don’t realize that posting a birth date on social media such as Facebook makes them more vulnerable to identity theft. Provide your social security number and date of birth only to legitimate organizations like employers, insurance companies, medical providers and financial institutions that will safeguard the privacy of your information. Never use your real birth date on social media; this is a case where lying about your age can protect you.

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Appeal to Love or Loneliness
This type of scam usually targets men who don’t have a wide circle of friends, so when such a man gets a spam e-mail from a Russian woman looking for a meaningful relationship and only asks for a pen pal, the temptation to reply may be too great to resist. What usually happens, is that the beautiful Russian woman is not a woman, but just a scammer who builds up the confidence of the victim little by little and then starts asking for favors. The sting may be something like: “My mother got sick and I need some money for her operation; I don’t know what to do.” The man may feel that he is doing a good deed to help his girlfriend by sending money, but he has just become the victim of a scam.

Appeal to Piety
The e-mail in your inbox starts out “Beloved in God, my will to you $3,000,000”. A Christian lady who is dying of cancer says that the Lord guided her to find your e-mail address in a guest-book that she was examining. She is sure that you are a God fearing person to whom she can entrust the fund that she has designated for several charitable purposes. As compensation for administering the fund according to her wishes, you will receive 30% of the total assets. This is a variation of the Nigerian 419 scam that targets religious believers who would like to help a dying woman fulfill her last wishes. The religious angle of this scam enables the scammer to manipulate the victim’s actions by questioning the strength of the victim’s faith in God when the victim begins to resist some aspect of the scam. The scammer can use quotations from the Bible that say how to serve the Lord and ensnare the victim further.

Emergency Help for a Friend or Relative
You receive a phone call or an e-mail from someone claiming to be your friend or relative who is in trouble outside the country. While traveling, he or she lost the wallet, got robbed or got arrested and now needs your help to get back home. Here is an example of an e-mail:

From: Maria Smith
Date: Thu, Feb 21, 2020 at 6:02 AM
Subject: BAD MOMENT (Maria Smith)

This message may be coming to you as a surprise but I need your help. Few days back my family and I made an unannounced vacation trip to Manila, Philippines. Everything was going fine until last night when we were mugged on our way back to the hotel. They stole all our cash, credit cards and cellphone but thank God we still have our lives and passports safe. The hotel manager has been unhelpful to us for reasons I don’t know. I’m writing you from a local library.

I’ve reported to the police and after writing down some statements that’s the last I had from them. I contacted the consulate and all I keep hearing is they will get back to me. Our return flight leaves soon. I need you to help me out with a fast loan to settle our bills here so we can get back home. I’ll refund the money as soon as we get back.

You recognize the name of Maria Smith as one of your friends. In this particular case, the e-mail had a different reply address from the sending address. The scammer had set up an e-mail at [email protected] so that by simply replying to the message you would be in contact with the scammer instead of your friend. This is a technique used by scammers to get money from the people listed in your friend’s address book. The scammer probably obtained the address book by hacking into your friend’s computer or his or her e-mail account to steal the information. In this case, the scammer will probably ask to wire the money to the Philippines, as suggested by the note. This is a scam. DON’T SEND MONEY under any circumstances. The best thing that you can do for your friend is contact her independently (start a new note, do not click “reply” for this note) and suggest to: 1) change the password of the e-mail account, 2) apply all system updates to the operating system of the computer, and 3) run an antivirus scan of the computer.

Appeal to Compassion
Sometimes a letter or an e-mail has a sad story and asks for any money that you can spare for a charitable purpose or to help a person overcome a serious problem. The only good thing about this scam is that it is straightforward and does not beat around the bush. The persons who send money may never find out if the money is really used for the charity or whether the person who has the problem really exists. The donors may never know that they have been the victims of a scam, but they may then receive follow-up messages thanking them for their support and saying how new problems have come up that require additional funds, or they may become the targets of donation requests for other causes. These scams become more popular after a hurricane, a flood or an earthquake when there is a lot of TV coverage about a disaster.

Many popular appeals for charity run television campaigns that show children with dirty faces, others show pets with matted hair and sad eyes. The advertisements say that the children are poor with no resources or that the pets were the victims of abuse and will be killed in some horrible gas chamber because they are unwanted. Could you please donate to feed and educate these children, or to try to put these pets in a home where they will be loved? Most people don’t know that a private charitable foundation is required by law to pay out only 5% of its assets each year; the rest can be used for the operation of the foundation which may include high salaries and fancy cars for the administrators, and more TV ads. A person who donates $100 dollars to a charity would be surprised to discover that only $5 dollars reaches the intended beneficiaries. This may not be a scam, but it feels like one.

Appeal to Shame or Embarrassment
Some of the most pervasive spam e-mails are those for Viagra, Cialis or other male enhancement products. The premise of these offers is that the Internet provides a fairly anonymous way of obtaining a product that would be awkward or embarrassing to discuss with a doctor or pharmacist. One real problem is that any products bought in this way could be counterfeit look-alikes with ineffective or harmful ingredients. You don’t know with whom you are dealing when replying to a spam e-mail, and there is no guarantee that you will receive any product if you send money. You basically could be just sending the money to the scammers.

Internet commerce has grown substantially during recent years. Shopping online is a convenient way of buying products from the comfort of your own home, but it is necessary to deal with reputable commercial web sites and not just a random e-mail that appears in your mailbox.

Taking advantage of Ignorance or Inexperience
A person who thinks that someone is trying to pull an old trick may say: “I was not born yesterday” and reject an offer that is too good to be true, but even very smart people have been duped by the Fake Cashier Check scam. The scam goes like this:

  • You advertise that you are selling a vehicle or renting an apartment.
  • A person in a foreign country contacts you and tells you that they are moving to the city and they will come later to get the vehicle or occupy the apartment.
  • The person will send you a cashier check for more than the amount of the transaction.
  • You are told to deposit the check and wire the remainder back to the foreign country.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) requires banks to make money from certified or cashier’s checks available in one to five days, but this may not be long enough for the check to clear the issuing bank. The scam works because the victim’s account is credited with the money and he can wire the remainder to the scammer, but in a couple of weeks, the bank tells the victim that the check is fake and removes the money from the victim’s account. The scammer never comes to take possession of the property. The counterfeit checks can look very realistic on tamper-proof paper with proper routing numbers and account numbers, so the scam may not be discovered until it is verified by the issuing bank. Avoid getting into a transaction where you have to refund an overage, and always wait until the issuing bank has cleared the check before refunding any money or surrendering possession of what you are selling.

Fake Business Deals for web site owners
The Internet offers many opportunities for earning income through advertising. A popular web site may get a substantial amount of income, and the more web pages that the site has, the greater the income. Some companies such as BET Information Systems, doing business as nSphere, promise web site owners to increase revenue by splitting advertising income 50/50 for a “localmarket” subdomain developed and hosted by BET/nSphere. The web site owner only needs to provide a few articles, set a few links to the subdomain from the home web page, and redirect the subdomain to a server controlled by BET/nSphere. nSphere organizes and generates many web pages with local information.

After the traffic builds up on the localmarket subdomain, BET/nSphere starts collecting ad revenue from Google AdSense and posts the monthly earnings in a database accessible to the web site owner. However, the company doesn’t send any monthly notifications or make the payments for half of the revenue as required by the contract. When the web site owner finally tries to contact BET/nSphere by e-mail, the messages about the missing payments are ignored, and even written invoices sent by certified mail are ignored.

Doing further investigation, the web site owner finds out that the official agreement has a fake address for BET/nSphere – 100 Franklin Street, Suite 900 in Boston is actually occupied by a real estate investment company. This is why the mailed invoices were ignored. Everything about BET/nSphere is fake. The Better Business Bureau does not have any information about BET or nSphere, but they mention that the address had come up before as a virtual office. Web site owners who forget that they redirected their localmarket subdomain may continue being victims of the scam for a long time.

Web site owners are sometimes also cheated by companies that offer to pay commissions for sales or referrals from web page advertising. The web site owners lose money if the advertisers underreport the number of referrals or sales. It is not unusual for web site owners to complain that after hundreds of thousands of web page impressions the advertising company reports no sales, and therefore no commission. The web site owner cannot verify this because all the sales monitoring is done by the advertising company.

The promise of advertising revenue sometimes lures web site owners to add code that acts like a Trojan horse. The offer may be: “You just need to upload a file(page) on your site/hosting. I will give you $200 per month. Payment will be via PayPal. You will get payment within 3-7 days.” Once you add the code, such as 70-687.php, a malicious hacker can gain access to your web site and turn it into a spambot and exploit or damage your databases. Always be very careful before adding extraneous JavaScript or PHP code to your web site.

You may get a “copyright violation” notice that demands a large sum of money for an image that appears on your web site. The sender of the message or FedEx package may be acting without knowledge of the real copyright owner who may not even be aware of the violation. Avoid this problem by always licensing copyrighted images or by using images from Wikipedia or other sources that are free to use. You may need to contact an attorney familiar with intellectual property laws to find out if the claim is legitimate.

Sneaky Withdrawals
You are likely to suffer some financial losses when you provide account numbers or personal information to a scammer. Prepaid card services like the Green Dot MoneyPak are popular because they can be bought at thousands of pharmacies and convenience stores nationwide and the funds are instantly available without transaction fees after you buy the card. People use MoneyPak to pay for telecommunication services, credit card bills or to transfer money to PayPal accounts to buy merchandise on the Internet. MoneyPak works like a debit card without the need for a bank account. To pay for a service, you only need to logon to the merchant that you want to pay and provide the MoneyPak number, but if you give your MoneyPak number to a scammer, he can buy whatever he wants with your money, and your account will be empty when you try to use it. Too bad!

By this time, you know that you should not provide personal or financial information to someone you don’t trust. However, some offers don’t ask you for this information, they only request that you call to find out about the details of the prize that you have won or the great business deal that they offer. Beware! The area codes 284, 809 or 876 correspond to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or the British Virgin Islands. These calls may cost you from $1.49 to $3.99 dollars per minute because they function like the American “premium rate” lines that use the 900 area code without the need of dialing 011 for international calls. Calls from the USA to Canada also look like regular long distance calls, but the rates are higher. The high rates are split between the phone companies and the people who operate the lines. The purpose of these scams is to keep you on the phone as long as possible to maximize the amount that you will pay. The operator may chit-chat or put you on hold for a long time. You will find the charges when you get your phone bill, and the phone company is not likely to cancel the charges because you dialed the foreign number willingly. Before calling an unfamiliar area code, make sure that it is not a foreign country code.

Bait and Switch
A bait and switch scam consists of presenting an expensive item at a bargain price. When a customer tries to buy it, he is told that the item is no longer available, but an equivalent item can be bought for a slightly higher price. A customer who has spent time and money getting to the store has a choice to make: accept the item at a higher price or return home empty handed. Sometimes, a lower quality item is wrapped up without any notification; the customer may not discover the switch until he comes home and opens the package. This happens more frequently when ordering merchandise from mail order catalogs and the shipper substitutes an item. The cost and hassle of mailing something back may be more expensive than accepting an unwanted item.

Bait and switch scams are successful when customers are not able to verify a claim that justifies a higher price, e.g., this ground beef is made from top sirloin and not chuck; this camera lens has internal components made of metal and not plastic; this light bulb will last 15 times longer than a regular bulb; this organic lettuce is more nutritious than regular lettuce. Who is going to check? How are they going to check?

Ponzi Scheme
Early in the 20th century, Charles Ponzi set up a fraudulent investment operation where he paid dividends to investors from their own funds or from money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from any actual profits from any investment. People were lured to invest in the scheme with promises of high return rates and reliable payments. The scheme collapsed in 1920 from lack of new investors, depletion of the investment capital, and withdrawal of funds by the promoter. The high notoriety of this crime established the name of “Ponzi scheme” for this type of fraud. Ponzi’s shenanigans brought down six Boston banks and ruined many families. Ponzi was deported to Italy after spending some time in prison.

Bernard Madoff perpetrated the largest financial fraud in the history of the United States. Madoff was a stockbroker and investment advisor who started a Ponzi scheme in the early 1990s. Since Madoff was Jewish, many Jewish organizations wanted to invest in his funds, but he cheated all his investors equally. Madoff kept the scheme going by having a fund that consistently reported a gain of 11% every year for 15 years, but all the actual losses were hidden by co-conspirators who falsified financial records to deceive auditors. By the time that the scheme was discovered, Madoff had defrauded thousands of people and organizations of almost $65 billion dollars. Very little money was recovered. In 2009, at age 71, Madoff started serving a sentence of 150 years in prison.

List of suspicious transactions
If your transaction fits one of the descriptions below it could be a scam.

  • You received a check for an item that you sold on the Internet.
  • The amount of the check written out to you is more than the selling price of the item.
  • You have been instructed to “wire” funds, or to receive an online wire as soon as possible.
  • A check that you received is connected with an individual that you communicated only by email.
  • The check that you received is drawn from the account of a business or individual different from the person buying your item or product.
  • You have been informed that you were a winner in a lottery that you did not enter.
  • You have been asked to pay money to receive a deposit.
  • You are offered a payment or commission to facilitate money transfers through your account.
  • You receive a work-from-home offer.

What is wrong with receiving a work-from-home offer? The prospective employer will ask for your name, address, picture ID, social security number, date of birth, and bank account numbers to send your paychecks and fill out tax forms. But if it is a scam, that information can be used to steal your identity and empty your bank account.

Medicare and Medicaid scams
Medicare and Medicaid are federal medical programs that serve millions of retired Americans and low-income individuals requiring medical assistance. In February 2020, Jacques Roy, a Texas doctor was charged with fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid $375 million dollars. The doctor sent recruiters to homeless shelters and paid $50 dollars to applicants that signed up as homebound patients requiring special care. The doctor then billed Medicare for unnecessary services. The scam was discovered after an audit found that Dr. Roy had certified more than 5000 patients in 2020 whereas the average for most physicians was only 104 such cases. You can help fight this type of scam by not signing any blank medical care forms and by reporting charges for services that you did not receive to the appropriate agencies.

How to Stop SMiShing Scams From Robbing You of Sensitive Information

Most people are familiar with standard phishing scams, where an unsolicited email asks you to provide sensitive information to identity thieves. But thieves continue to change their tactics, and you’re increasingly likely to get text messages in SMiShing scams.

What Is SMiShing?

SMiShing is a scam that involves an approach by text message. You’ll get a text message on your phone or another messaging system asking you to verify information, but the sender is not really who they say they are. Most thieves know better than to ask for your Social Security Number directly; instead, they’ll trick you into replying to an “important” issue with one of your accounts.

Messages might say you’ve signed up for a payment you don’t recognize and that your credit card or bank account will be charged unless you reply to the message. Alternatively, you might get a message saying somebody tried to charge your account, and the security department wants to verify the transaction with you before approving it. Of course, there are no pending charges, and thieves are hoping you’ll respond to clear up the error. As part of that process, they’ll get as much information as they can out of you by asking for:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your credit or debit card number
  • Your zip code, which helps them use your card number if they already have it
  • Your bank account number or routing information
  • The name of the bank or credit card you use, which they can use later in spear phishing attacks personalized to you

SMiShing scams might also be designed to infect your mobile device with malware or to encourage you to visit dangerous websites from a desktop computer.

Why SMiShing Works

Con artists use a variety of techniques to trick people into giving out information or clicking on links. SMiShing is not new, but some people are less cautious with text messages than they are with standard phishing scams.

Scamming people with email just isn’t as easy as it used to be. Email service providers are skilled at filtering spam and viruses, and users are accustomed to getting junk email. Plus, people tend to have their mobile devices everywhere they go, and it may be possible to catch them in a busy or distracted moment. Awareness of robocalls means fewer people answer calls. Texting, meanwhile, still has a semblance of intimacy and is a preferred method of legitimate communication by many financial institutions.

The Conundrum

Receiving a text message creates a dilemma for the recipient. On the one hand, it’s tempting to respond and solve any problems before they get out of hand. In a world where your account details and personal information have probably been stolen in a variety of breaches, it may pay to act fast. On the other hand, responding to requests for information can provide the one or two missing details an identity thief needs to start doing damage, making it best to ignore SMiShing messages.

These messages are a form of social engineering, where thieves take advantage of assumptions that victims make and the realities of increasingly busy and noisy lives.

How to Avoid Becoming the Victim of a SMiShing Scam

To protect yourself from SMiShing, use the same caution with text messages and instant messages that you already use with email:

Look at the Source

Check the number that’s sending you messages, but be aware it’s easy for thieves to spoof caller ID and make it look like the message is coming from a different number. For example, they might know what phone number your bank uses and copy that number so you’re less suspicious. If the number is completely unrecognizable, that’s a red flag.

Take Action Separately

If there’s a problem with your account, you have several options for fixing the problem—you don’t have to do it all by responding to that text message. Avoid clicking on links or answering questions if you’re not confident about a request. Instead, contact your bank or credit card company using a number you know is legitimate. For example, use the number on the back of your card or contact customer service while you’re logged in to your account.

Quiz the Sender of the Text

If friends or family ask for personal information, make sure you’re really talking to a loved one. For example, somebody might want your full date of birth or Social Security Number for an insurance application. Before responding, ask a question or use a joke that only the “real” person knows how to respond to. Instead of writing back, call and provide that information verbally so there’s no written record if one of you loses your phone.

Don’t Install Apps

Never install apps from a link in an unexpected text message. Although some apps and operating systems can help to protect you, you don’t want to give untrusted apps access to your device.​

Our Anti Scam policy

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, there are thousands of sincere honest singles out there who dream to love and be loved.

Do not spend your time, money and feelings on scammers!

fights against scams and do our best to protect you!

You can see our special SCAM Gallery of ladies new!

We demand from all our customers that they adhere to the AntiScam Rules:

  • No agency allowed to post profiles of their customers on and ask our customers to pay for correspondence
  • No commercial service allowed to promote their business
  • Only real profiles of real people, no fake photos
  • No singles allowed to post profiles with a purpose other than establishing a personal relationship.
  • We warn our clients against the sending of money to female members, and we ask clients to inform the agency about ANY money request initiated by a female member, for any purpose.

To report a scam

send us a letter, using “Contact Us” form with your name, current email address and your story, provide us with the information proving scam or scamming intention and we will immediately remove a scammer from our website.

You must be aware of the fact that there are some individuals online who may try to extract from you some amount in cash playing on your feelings. Be cautious and be ready! Let us help you to avoid a situation when you’ll lose your money and will be hurt and disappointed.


If you hold the first meeting in person OUT of our office we CANNOT assume any responsibility for your security, we cannot guarantee your safety as well the safety of your feelings or your money.

Financial Scam Technique

We want You to be able to protect yourself by learning how to spot the danger signs of scams. Common financial scam techniques are given below.

If a buyer promises a cashiers check/money order/Western Union that overpays you, and then requests that you wire the difference to them after keeping some for yourself, beware! Scamsters who adopt this method typically use forged or bogus checks, and it’s not difficult to realize who’s overpaying who.

If you receive an reply from someone in Africa/Nigeria/Abidjan who claims to have millions of dollars from a dead husband/father/brother and wants you to help get the money out of their country – it just sounds too good to be true! This is commonly known as the Nigerian 419 scam, and is named after the corresponding penal code of Nigeria.

If a seller offers his goods at an unbelievably low price, you should ascertain if he’s credible. Some scamsters take your money and run, leaving you with nothing but a lighter wallet. Pay by credit card where possible. In most cases, you can dispute credit card charges for non-delivery of goods. You can also use an intermediary service such as escrow. For a small fee, an escrow service holds the payment, forwarding it to the seller only when the buyer has received the goods in working order. An escrow service will also act as a mediator in times of dispute.

Female Personal Scam Patterns

All scam patterns have similarities that are very easy to spot if you know what to watch out for:

  • Usually the contact originates from a personals site where anyone can place his/her ad for free. Most often it was not you who initiated the acquaintance; you received a letter from a lovely Russian female who was interested in you. *Her* description of the partner is always very broad that will fit anybody – “kind intelligent man, age and race don’t matter”.
  • Sometimes *she* places a real nice discription and lovely, INNOCENT pictures, with honest eyes and kind smile. You will initiate the acquaintance.
  • It is always email correspondence; and letters are sent regularly, often every day; a new picture is sent with almost every letter.
  • *She* pretends she is not interested in your financial status, *she* does not use the word “financially secure” in her description of the desired partner.
  • Everything what *she* is looking for is a good personality.
  • Things move very fast, and *she* falls in love with you within 1-4 letters.
  • In her letters *she* talks a lot about trust, honesty and sincerity.
  • *She* does not answer your particular questions though she eagerly states she welcomes your curiosity.
  • Her financial situation is very bad – and she lets you know from the very beginning how little she earns, including the size of her salary even though you never asked about it.
  • In a few letters you will receive the information that *her* mom, dad, auntie or cat is sick, yes – cat! and she will be busy taking care of them. A smart one will not ask for money directly, but will put you in a situation that if you want to continue correspondence you have to support her.
  • If you really like the girl and tell her that you want to invite her to come visit you, next letter she will give you the information about visa, medical insurance, tickets. Prices will sound rather scary for you, like $300-500 for visa. a couple of thousand dollars for tickets, a few hundred dollars for insurance.
  • The majority of scam artists disappear after receiving money, some continue to be in touch, hoping to get more.

There are a lot of other “red” flags:

  • The most prominent is the fact that scammers don’t really read your letters. They are too busy corresponding with all potential victims. They don’t answer your questions. They don’t remember what you have written – actually, they don’t relate to the content of your letters at all. Those letters could be sent to anybody: “her” letters are pure monologue that becomes more and more obsessed with “her love” to you and her desire to be together with you despite of everything that separates you. There are usually sequences of letters, and they send the same messages to all their correspondents, one by one, making the only change – the man’s name (usually it appears only once, or does not appear at all – *she* uses “sweetheart”, “my love” etc instead). And of course sooner or later it will end in money request.
  • Dear Gentlemen: the above statements are not a rule, but patterns that we have experienced with online correspondence. We advise that you
    pay attention and be cautious!
  • You can also meet not only a scam master, but fun lovers. These ladies like to travel from one country to another, to spend three months with one guy then one month with another. All costs are paid, new country, new experience, lots of shopping – lots of fun! for her, but not for you if you truly look for long term relations. By the end of her trip, she will inform you that she is not ready to make a commitment and need some time to think it over or that she thinks that they do not compliment each other.
  • An average regular person can not easily leave the country for three months. If she is employed, it is almost impossible to get 3 months vacation there, even a student can not easily leave the university or college for this period.

Male Personal Scam Patterns

By now there is one pattern we are aware of – *he* places his profile on free dating sites and invites girls to come to his place and stay for a couple of months to see how it works. During this time period, his lady guest is doing her best to make him to like her – household, cooking, laundry, everything, sure free of charge and then – “good-bye” we are not good for each other. And then next “bride” and the following. This is probably the most difficult case to define if he is a “scammer” or not. But obviously the same pattern will work here – *he* will not be interested in a lady’s personality, he will not answer all questions and will avoid to share his life details. *He* will like a lady real fast and will invite her to come to his place without any delays. Dear Ladies, again everything that is said above is not a rule, but we advise you to pay attention and be cautious!

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, there are thousands of sincere honest people online who dream to love and be loved, who are truly looking for their soul mates and life partners.

Be causious, be smart, be lucky and you will find your dream date, best friend, passionate lover and caring loving life partner.

Example of abuse-letter what we received from our member

> To: abuse
> From: —we-remove-email–@hotmail.com
> Name: Felix J.

> Question: Dear sirs;
> I have been corresponding with one of your ladies
> ( Ilona Garnyavaya 474 ) and even if you say that your ladies are only in
> your web site I foun this particular lady posted in several dating sites in
> Kharkov and what striked me is that in each of those she apears with a diferent
> age and I started to do a little research and she even apears in a anti scam
> site and is in its black lists of course I `m terminating any correspondence
> with her on fear that she or even your agency is a scam.

i do understand your fears. i will however tell you that i know her. i was
just in the kharkov office. i returned on now 11. the posting on the site is
from nov 8. ilona said she had just returned from florida after a relationship
had failed, she was just not in “love” with him. i asked her what was the
problem, she said the man was to demanding. i did not ask futher questions.

i also had a chance to look around the site and saw another lady on our
site. she also had a bad relationship with a man.

so to tell you, i knoiw these 2 ladies. they are both very popular. i also
know the site you sent me to has no way for the lady to reply and it is one
sided. i have only had 2 complanits with ilona over the time she had a membership.
one from a man who could not understand why after sending endless flowers,
she was not “interested in him” the other time was for asking a man for private
english lessons. in both times we had a talk with her and explained the rules
again. we never had a complaint again.

> one of the sites I found her is www.allukrainebeauties.com profile 308
> where she is 25 yo

she has asked to be removed, she was not. our site is updated monthly. if a
lady wants off, we WILL take her off. other sites need the #’s of girls to make
money. we are an honest agency.

> and the antiscam site I found her is www.uaprofiler.com and you look into
> the letter G and you will find her.

> I also saw her profile on www.aukrainlady.com profile ai1614.
> where she is 26 yo .

cold not connect to this

> I also know the situation in ukraine and dont blame the girl that much
> since not many money or emotions where wasted but for you as an agency that
> prides in its reputation I belialibe this is very damaging as miself as a client
> will allways doubt wheter is the girl or the agency that is making the scam.

if you can base the reputation of our agency thru 2 ladys(one of my mention)
out of the 1200-1300 ladies we have , if we know a lady is a scam or we have
reports, we WILL remove her, thats a promise. please look around the anti
scams site, we are hardly EVER mentioned. we have over 50 employees and been in
buisness for over 4 years. so we are not a fly by night company or a scam
agency. we have live web cams, so you can see we are not just hiding behind the site
pages. if you do wish to cancel your membership, i will wish you the best of
luck in your search.

Eastern Standard Time or Visit our Support Center and write email. We will be happy to answer any questions.
United States
Tel: +1(855) 200 0910

10 Online Scams You Need to Be Aware of—And How to Avoid Them

Swindlers may be following your every tweet and post, looking for a chance to fleece you. Here’s how to confound 10 major online cons.

Free trial offer! (Just pay forever)

How it works: You see an Internet offer for a free one-month trial of some amazing product—often a teeth whitener or a weight-loss program. All you pay is $5.95 for shipping and handling.

What’s really going on: Buried in fine print, often in a color that washes into the background, are terms that obligate you to pay $79 to $99 a month in fees, forever.

The big picture: “These guys are really shrewd,” says Christine Durst, an Internet fraud expert who has consulted for the FBI and the FTC. “They know that most people don’t read all the fine print before clicking on ‘I agree,’ and even people who glance at it just look for numbers. So the companies spell out the numbers, with no dollar signs; anything that has to do with money or a time frame gets washed into the text.” That’s exactly what you’ll see in the terms for Xtreme Cleanse, a weight-loss pill that ends up costing “seventy-nine dollars ninety-five cents plus five dollars and ninety-five cents shipping and handling” every month once the 14-day free trial period ends or until you cancel.

Avoidance maneuver: Read the fine print on offers, and don’t believe every testimonial. Check TinEye.com, a search engine that scours the Web for identical photos. If that woman with perfect teeth shows up everywhere promoting different products, you can be fairly certain her “testimonial” is bogus. Reputable companies will allow you to cancel, but if you can’t get out of a “contract,” cancel your card immediately, then negotiate a refund; if that doesn’t work, appeal to your credit card company. Not all websites will lose you money–Youtube can make you a fortune.

The hot spot imposter (He’s close, real close)

How it works: You’re sitting in an airport or a coffee shop and you log into the local Wi-Fi zone. It could be free, or it could resemble a pay service like Boingo Wireless. You get connected, and everything seems fine.

What’s really going on: The site only looks legitimate. It’s actually run by a nearby criminal from a laptop. If it’s a “free” site, the crook is mining your computer for banking, credit card, and other password information. If it’s a fake pay site, he gets your purchase payment, then sells your card number to other crooks.

The big picture: Fake Wi-Fi hot spots are cropping up everywhere, and it can be difficult to tell them from the real thing. “It’s lucrative and easy to do,” says Brian Yoder, vice president of engineering at CyberDefender, a manufacturer of antivirus software. “Criminals duplicate the legitimate Web page of a Wi-Fi provider like Verizon or AT&T and tweak it so it sends your information to their laptop.”

Avoidance maneuver: Make sure you’re not set up to automatically connect to nonpreferred networks. (For PCs, go to the Network and Sharing Center in the Control Panel. Click on the link for the Wi-Fi network you’re currently using. A box with a “General” tab should pop up. Click “Wireless Properties.” Then, uncheck the box next to “Connect automatically when this network is in range,” and click OK to enable. For Macs, click on the Wifi button in the upper right, click “Open Network Preferences,” and check “Ask to join new networks.”) Before traveling, buy a $20 Visa or MasterCard gift card to purchase airport Wi-Fi access (enough for two days) so you won’t broadcast your credit or debit card information. Or set up an advance account with providers at airports you’ll be visiting. And don’t do any banking or Internet shopping from public hot spots unless you’re certain the network is secure. (Look for https in the URL, or check the lower right-hand corner of your browser for a small padlock icon.) Finally, always be on the lookout for these red flags someone is spying on your computer, whether you’re in public or not.

The not-so-sweet tweet (It’s a real long shot)

How it works: You get a “tweet” from a Twitter follower, raving about a contest for a free iPad or some other expensive prize: “Just click on the link to learn more.”

What’s really going on: The link downloads a “bot” (software robot), adding your computer to a botnet of “zombies” that scammers use to send spam email.

The big picture: Scammers are taking advantage of URL-shortening services that allow Twitter users to share links that would otherwise be longer than the 140-character maximum for a tweet. These legitimate services break down a huge URL to ten or 15 characters. But when users can’t see the actual URL, it’s easy for bad guys to post malicious links.

Avoidance maneuver: Before clicking on a Twitter link from a follower you don’t know, check out his profile, says Josh George, a website entrepreneur in Vancouver, Washington, who follows online scams. “If he’s following hundreds of thousands of people and nobody is following him, it’s a bot,” he says—a good tip to keep in mind for how to protect yourself online and avoid being scammed.

Your computer is infected! (And we can help)

How it works: A window pops up about a legitimate-sounding antivirus software program like “Antivirus XP 2020” or “SecurityTool,” alerting you that your machine has been infected with a dangerous bug. You’re prompted to click on a link that will run a scan. Of course, the virus is found—and for a fee, typically about $50, the company promises to clean up your computer.

What’s really going on: When you click on the link, the bogus company installs malware—malicious software—on your computer. No surprise, there will be no cleanup. But the thieves have your credit card number, you’re out the money, and your computer is left on life support. Scams are everywhere–you can even become a “doctor” online with just $99.

The big picture: “Scareware” like this is predicted to be the most costly Internet scam of 2020, with over a million users affected daily, according to Dave Marcus, director of security and research for McAfee Labs, a producer of antivirus software. “This is a very clever trick,” says Marcus, “because people have been told for the past 20 years to watch out for computer viruses.” Even computer veterans fall prey. Stevie Wilson, a blogger and social-media business consultant in Los Angeles, got a pop-up from a company called Personal Antivirus. “It looked very Microsoft-ish, and it said I had downloaded a virus,” she recalls. “It did a scan and said it found 40 Trojan horses, worms, and viruses. I was concerned that they were infecting emails I was sending to clients, so I paid to upgrade my anti-virus software. Right after I rebooted, my computer stopped working.” Wilson had to wipe her computer hard drive clean and reinstall every-thing. Although most of her files were backed up, she lost personal photos and hundreds of iTunes files. “I felt powerless,” she says.

Avoidance maneuver: If you get a pop-up virus warning, close the window without clicking on any links. Then run a full system scan using legitimate, updated antivirus software like free editions of AVG Anti-Virus or ThreatFire AntiVirus. Tip: Your “private” browser may not be so private.

Dialing for dollars (With a ring of fraud)

How it works: You get a text message on your cell phone from your bank or credit card issuer: There’s been a problem, and you need to call right away with some account information. Or the message says you’ve won a gift certificate to a chain store—just call the toll-free number to get yours now.

What’s really going on: The “bank” is a scammer hoping you’ll reveal your account information. The gift certificate is equally bogus; when you call the number, you’ll be told you need to subscribe to magazines or pay shipping fees to collect your prize. If you bite, you will have surrendered your credit card information to “black hat” marketers who will ring up phony charges.

The big picture: Welcome to “smishing,” which stands for “SMS phishing,” the text-message version of the lucrative email scam. In this ploy, scammers take advantage of the smart-phone revolution—hoping that a text message to your cell will make it less likely you’ll investigate the source, as you might do while sitting at your desk. Since many banks and businesses do offer text-message notifications, the scam has the air of legitimacy. Shirena Parker, a 20-year-old newlywed in Sacramento, California, was thrilled when she got a text message announcing she’d won a $250 Wal-Mart gift card. When she called the number, a representative explained there would be a $2 shipping charge (later upped to $4 by another “representative”). Parker gave the scammer her debit card number and started getting round-the-clock calls from him, asking for the phone numbers and emails of friends and family. “It was turning into harassment,” she says. After two days, she contacted the Better Business Bureau, which told her that Wal-Mart was not giving away gift cards. Hearing that, Parker’s husband canceled their debit card before the con could empty the account but not before he had helped himself to the $4 “shipping” charge. “I don’t know how they got my name and phone number,” says Parker. “But I learned my lesson.” Scammers can even reach you by mail–beware of this new trick that targets pregnant women.

Avoidance maneuver: Real banks and stores might send you notices via text message (if you’ve signed up for the service), but they never ask for account information. If you’re unsure, call the bank or store directly. You can also try the Better Business Bureau, or Google the phone number to see if any scam reports turn up. Had Parker checked out the phone number, she would have learned this was a scam, and probably could avoid these phone call scams that can steal your money, too.

We are the world (The world of charity scams, that is)

How it works: You get an email with an image of a malnourished orphan—from Haiti or another developing nation. “Please give what you can today,” goes the charity’s plea, followed by a request for cash. To speed relief efforts, the email recommends you send a Western Union wire transfer as well as detailed personal information—your address and your Social Security and checking account numbers.

What’s really going on: The charity is a scam designed to harvest your cash and banking information. Nothing goes to helping disaster victims.

The big picture: The Internet, email, and text messaging have given new life to age-old charity scams. “These cons watch the headlines very closely,” says Durst, and they quickly set up websites and PayPal accounts to take advantage of people’s kindness and sympathy. Durst recalls seeing fake donation websites within days of Michael Jackson’s death, urging fans to contribute to his favorite charities. Natural disasters, too, tend to spawn all sorts of fake charities.

Avoidance maneuver: Donate to real charities on their own websites. Find the sites yourself instead of clicking on links in email solicitations; in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, scammers even set up fake Red Cross sites that looked real. Genuine aid organizations will accept donations by credit card or check; they won’t ask for wire transfers, bank account information, or Social Security numbers. Donations via text message are okay as long as you confirm the number with the organization.

Love for sale (The cruelest con)

How it works: You meet someone on a dating site, on Facebook, in a chat room, or while playing a virtual game. You exchange pictures, talk on the phone. It soon becomes obvious that you were meant for each other. But the love of your life lives in a foreign country and needs money to get away from a cruel father or to get medical care or to buy a plane ticket so you can finally be together.

What’s really going on: Your new love is a scam artist. There will be no tearful hug at the airport, no happily-ever-after. You will lose your money and possibly your faith in humankind.

The big picture: Online social networking has opened up bold new avenues for heartless scammers who specialize in luring lonely people into bogus friendships and love affairs, only to steal their money.

Cindy Dawson, a 39-year-old customer service representative for a manufacturing firm, fell for a Nigerian named Simon Peters whom she met on a dating site. “We started talking on the phone,” the divorced mother of three recalls. “He said his father lived in Bolingbrook, Illinois, not far from me.” They exchanged photos; Peters was a handsome man. Dawson sent him pictures of her kids, who also talked to him on the phone. “He kept saying how much he cared about me,” says Dawson, fighting back tears at the memory. “I was in love with him.”

Soon enough, Peters started asking for money—small amounts at first, to buy food. He always wanted the money wired by Western Union to someone named Adelwale Mazu. Peters said he couldn’t use his own name because he didn’t have the right documentation. “It started progressing to higher amounts of money,” says Dawson. “I sent him money for airfare from Nigeria. I drove to the airport, but he never showed.”

Peters continued working the scam, explaining that authorities in Lagos wouldn’t let him board the plane. Then he needed money for school. Then he was stuck in London. “Everybody told me he was scamming me,” says Dawson, “but I didn’t want to believe it. Finally my 12-year-old daughter said, ‘Stop sending him money; he’s never coming.’” After reading about these types of online scams, Dawson searched for the fake name and figured out that Peters’s photo was a stock image of a male model repurposed from the Web. “He got about $15,000 out of me,” she says. “I was angry, and I felt stupid.”

Avoidance maneuver: “On the Internet, it is almost impossible to be too paranoid,” says Durst. “But don’t be paralyzed; be smart.” Dating and social-networking sites can be a great way to meet new friends, even from foreign countries. But if someone you know only from the Web asks for money, sign off quickly and follow these other tips for keeping yourself safe from online dating scams.

A terrible scam-azon (Yes, that deal really is too good to be true)

How it works: You’re doing some online shopping, as one does. You see what looks like a great deal on Amazon, a site you totally trust, and place an order.

What’s really going on: The seller’s a scammer; they’re going to send you a counterfeit product, or nothing at all, and they’ll still get your money.

The big picture: These scammers take advantage of Amazon’s policies to profit. They post delivery dates that are three or four weeks from the date of purchase. Since Amazon pays its sellers every two weeks, the scammers will receive payment long before you discover that it was a scam. This scam technique hurts not just buyers, but other sellers as well. Rob Ridgeway, who sells board games through Amazon, complains that fake sellers are stealing his business. He’s reported many of the scammers to Amazon, but more just keep coming. “I continue to play ‘whack-a-mole,’ trying to remove fake sellers,” Ridgeway told BuzzFeed News.

Avoidance maneuver: Watch out for new sellers (also known as “just launched” sellers), and take a careful look at the seller’s reviews before you buy from him or her. If you do fall victim to a scam, contact Amazon; their A-to-Z guarantee says that they have to refund you if you received a fake product (or none at all).

Hitman scam (This one’s killer)

How it works: You get an email (or a text) from someone saying he’s been hired to kill you, or to kidnap a family member. He’ll insist you send a large amount of money to a certain email address in exchange for your safety. Usually, the email will also warn you against contacting the authorities.

What’s really going on: There is no assassin. Somebody found your email address randomly (along with hundreds of others) and just wants your money.

The big picture: Your first thought might be to wonder how anyone could possibly fall for this. But keep in mind that the first response of anyone who’s just been threatened with murder online is, most likely, to panic. Even scarier, many of these scams include the victim’s personal information, which is all too easy to access through social media.

Avoidance maneuver: If you get one of these scary messages, the best thing to do is to ignore it. Responding to the scammer clues them in that they have reached a live account, and they’ll probably respond with more aggressive threats. No one wants that. Also, go ahead and contact the authorities; the better to stop the scammer in his tracks. To avoid being scammed, be careful about what you share on social media—there are some pieces of information you should definitely not be posting.

Travel scams (Don’t get wander-lost)

How it works: You get an email advertising an amazing deal on airline tickets to some exotic destination. Or, you see such a deal on the social media account of what appears to be a legitimate airline.

What’s really going on: Like the “free trial” scam, these travel scams often have all sorts of extra costs hidden in the fine print behind that alluring cheap price. Most likely, you’ll end up with a lighter wallet and no plane ticket.

The big picture: The peak time for these kinds of online scams is summertime, when people have vacation on the brain. They’re also common right before holidays such as Christmas and New Years. Scammers intentionally choose exotic, remote places that would be difficult to get to without their “amazing offer.” Finally, they throw in an expiration date, saying that you’ve only got so many weeks or months to take advantage of this offer, hoping that a sense of urgency will rope you in.

Avoidance maneuver: Scour the details of the offer before clicking any sort of confirmation button, and certainly before giving any payment information. Make sure that what you see really is what you get. And, even if you crave a solo trip, it can’t hurt to get a second pair of eyes as well. Another good tip is just to stick to travel agencies you trust; there are plenty of legitimate sites that still offer good deals. Finally, learning these cyber security secrets hackers don’t want you to know will help you stay one step ahead of scammers.

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