Most scams follow the same pattern and once you understand this, the tricks of the scammer become easier to spot.
If you look carefully at all of the different types of scams, you'll notice that most scams go through three stages: (1) approach; (2) communication; and (3) payment. Understanding the basic parts of a scam will help you to avoid the current crop of scams and to be on guard against new scams that emerge in the future.
1. The approach: delivery method
When scammers approach you it will always come with a story designed to make you believe a lie. The scammer will pretend to be something they arenot, a government official, an expert investor, a lottery official or even a romantic admirer. To deliver these lies to you, scammers will use a range of communication methods.
Online: Scammers lurk within the anonymous environment of the internet.
Email is a favoured scam method, providing a cheap and simple way to communicate on a large scale. Phishing emails that 'fish' for your personal information are the most common email scam type.
Social networking platforms, dating sites and online forums allow scammers to 'befriend' you and enter into your personal life to access your personal details, which can then be used against you or your family and friends.
Online shopping, classifieds and auction sites are used by scammers to target buyers and sellers, with initial contact often made through reputable and trusted sites or fake websites that look like the real thing. Look for secure payment options and beware of unusual payment methods such as wire transfer, Bitcoins or preloaded money cards. Credit cards usually offer some protection.
Over the phone: Scammers call and SMS too.
Phone calls are made by scammers to homes and businesses in a wide variety of scams, from threatening tax scams to offers of prizes or 'help' with computer viruses. The availability of cheap Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone calls means call centres can operate offshore with telephone numbers that look like they're local numbers. Telephone caller identification can easily be disguised and is one of the many tricks scammers use to make you believe they are someone else.
SMS text messages are used by scammers to send a whole range of scams including competition or prize scams. If you respond, yo may be charged at premium rates or find yourself signed up to a subscription service. It is safer not to respond or click on links in text messages unless you know who they came from. They can also contain attachments or links to malicious software in the guise of photos, songs, games or apps.
At your door: Watch out - some scammers will come right to your door to try and scam you.
Door-to-door scams usually involve the scammer promoting goods or services that are not delivered or are of a very poor quality. You may even get billed for work that you did not want or agree to. A common door-to-door scam is carried out by dodgy traders who move from place to place and do shoddy home repairs or just take your money and run.
Legitimate businesses can sell door-to-door but must clearly identify themselves and their company and follow other rules. You hav specific rights when it comes to door-to-door sales practices including the chance to change your mind - find out more at www.accc.gov.au/doortodoor
Scammers can pose as fake chairty workers to collect donations. They will take advantage of recent events like floods and bushfires. Before donating ask for identification and see their official receipt book.
Bulk mailing is still used to send lottery and sweepstake scams, investment opportunities, Nigerian scams and fake inheritance letters. A glossy brochure is no guarantee that an offer is legitimate. Regardless of the delivery method they use, their story is always the bait and if you bite, the scammer will attempt to move you to the next stage.
2. Communication and grooming: If you give them a chance to talk to you, they will start using tricks in their scammers toolbox to convince you to part with your money.
Scammers tools can involve the following:
- Scammers spin elaborate, yet convincing stories to get what they want.
- They use your personal details to make you belive you have dealt with them before and make the scam appear legitimate.
- Scammers may contact you regularly to build trust and convince you that they are your friend, partner or romantic interest.
- They play with your emotions by using the excitement of a win, the promise of everlasting love, sympathy for an unfortunate accident, guilt about not helping or anxiety and fear of arrest or a fine.
- Scammers love to create a sense of urgency so you dont have time to think things through and react on emotions rather than logic.
- Similarly, they use high pressure sales tactics saying it is a limited offer, prices will rise or the market will move and the opportunity will be lost.
- A scam can have all the hallmakrs of a real business using glossy brochures with technical industry jargon backed up with office fronts, call centres and professional websites.
- With access to the internet and clever software it is easy for scammers to create counterfeit and official-looking documents. A document that appears to have governemtn approval or is filled with legal jargon can give a scam an air of authority.
The scammers tools are designed to get you to lower your defences, build trust in the story and act quickly or irrationally and proceed to the final stage- sending the money.
3. Sending the money: Sometimes th biggest clue you will have that it is a scam is the way the scammer asks you to pay.
Asking for money can come within minutes of the scam or after months of careful grooming. Scammers have their preferences for how you send your money.
Scammers have been known to direct victims to their nearest money remittance location (post office, wire transfer service or even te bank) to send money. They have been known to stay on the phone, give specific instructions and may even send a taxi to help with this. Scammers are willing to accept money by any means and this can include direct bank transfers, preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin. Any request for payment by an unusual method is a tell-tale sign that it is part of a scam.
Credit cards usually offer some protection and you should also look for secure payment options where 'https' appears in the web address and the site hs a closed padlock symbol.
Don't send money to someone you have only met online or over the phone - espcially if they are overseas.
Be aware that scammers can also ask fo payment in theform of valuable goods and expensive gifts such as jewllery or electronics. Paying money to scammers isn't the only thing you should worry about - if you help transfer money for a stranger you may unwittingly be involved in illegal money laundering activities.