I was recently listening to one of my podcasts when the topic of scams became the topic of conversation. Reply All, an internet culture podcast, decided to report on a particular scam in the form of a website that claimed to help people find lost items left in New York City taxis. In truth, this website was, and still is, a scam that requires money to list the item on their database, in order to let that information sit uselessly on the internet. These individuals would often have their phone numbers listed, leaving them vulnerable to future scam calls. (Link to the episode at the bottom.)
Now, the best advice I have to give is to fact-check everything. Scams depend on the individual to be in a state of panic or desperation – which impedes thorough thought because our “fight or flight” instinct has inserted itself into the situation. People who end up scammed are quality folks, generally well-rounded, and often feel like they would never end up at the wrong end of one… until it happens. Here are a few tips to avoid scams:
Stay Calm, Fear Is a Weapon Against You
Scam artists are trained to keep you confused, worried, afraid, and alone. Many scam calls will attempt to hurry you along in order to keep you from having time to think through the situation. Scam websites will be vague enough to keep you guessing without giving any solid information. If you are not given time to think, or solid answers to questions, consider the possibility that you may be in the midst of a scam. The more calm you can be, and the quicker you can seek help, the better off you will be, as someone else you trust who is outside the situation may be able to keep a clear head.
The Government Won’t Call You
As a general rule, government agencies, such as the IRS, prefer to communicate through letters. If they have something they’d like to discuss, you’ll get a letter in the mail informing you of the situation and then leaving your response up to you.
If You Receive a Threat, Hang Up Immediately
If you do receive a call that purports to be a government agency, and in response to your reasonable questions the caller then proceeds to threaten you with police or other action, get off of the phone. Often times these calls will require you to not mention the situation to anyone or there will be legal action. Unless you are under previous direct orders from a trusted official not to speak about a pending case, this is not true – you are allowed to seek help. And, truly, if you begin feeling scared, get off the phone and get to somewhere you feel safe.
Google Adwords Don’t Mean a Website Is Trustworthy
If you are searching for help with something you desperately need, don’t always be so hasty as to click the very first website you come to. Scam websites also have the ability to pay Google to have their website (according to search terms likely to be entered) listed at the top of the results pile. Google is continually working to evaluate websites using their service, but some can and do slip through the net, no pun intended. Be aware and double check the website’s credentials by scanning each page for red flags and disclaimers.
Teach Your Children To Think While They’re Young
This may seem like an adult problem, but kids can be scammed as well. Teaching your children to watch for signs of being lied to and misled can help them to avoid fraud and scams. Teaching them to be willing to ask others for help – to not always “handle it themselves” will keep them from becoming isolated. Teaching them to ask good questions will help them to evaluate decisions well. Teaching them to be wise about who they trust will give them the ability to choose not to give their trust naively to others.
Have you ever been affected by a scam? How did you feel during the experience? How did you feel after you discovered the scam? What steps did you take to prevent future problems? What conversations can you have with your children to help them better evaluate situations?
Reply All Episode 76 Lost in a Cab (Some Explicit Language in angry response to these scams.)