Red Flags and Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Scam
The Offer Seems Too Good to be True
If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Examples include money left to you from an unknown relative, being awarded a loan or grant for which you did not apply, winning a lottery you did not enter and being selected to receive a share in funds in return for using your bank account.
They Want Private Information
Many scams involve getting hold of your bank account details. Scams involving identity theft also seek personal information. A common scenario is an email supposedly from a bank asking you to click on a link to confirm your bank details and password. If you think the email has really come from your bank, pick up the phone and confirm this with them, but banks don't do this. Never click on links or attachments in emails from people you don't know or you risk your computer becoming infected by viruses, trojans, or other malware.
Scammers may be intelligent, but they are not always well educated and don't always have English as their first language. Their grammatical errors can give them away. If the correspondence you receive is full of errors, be very suspicious.
Requests for Fees
Scammers will want advance payments or fees to clear the funds or complete their offer. It might not be clear what the fees are for, but the scammer will tell you they have to be paid or the money can't be released. They might suggest they are only trying to help you out and the fees are a small sum compared to what you will be receiving. Never pay fees or taxes in advance.
Suspicious Email Domains
Look carefully at the email address and domain name of every contact you make through the suspected scammer.
Suspect any free email address such as hotmail, aim, yahoo, gmail. Some genuine businesses do use free emails, but most do not. Other domain names not connected with the name of the company are also suspicious. Use a Whois lookup such as domaintools.com for the domain name (the part of the name after the @ sign) to find out who owns it, and see if anything about it looks suspicious. Do this for the company's website too, if they have one.
Even if a name looks genuine check it out using the white pages online (or yellow pages for companies). Many genuine business people also have a presence on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Google the name of the person and the company, and all the email addresses, and do a search on Google Blog Watch. If you can't find any reference anywhere to your contacts, they're probably fictional. Contact details can also be a sign of a scam. For example, if the only way you can reach the person is via a mobile phone rather than a landline, it could be a scam.
Suspicious or No Addresses
Scammers do not want their victims to know where they live. If there is no physical address and your contacts won't give you one, it's a sure bet you're being scammed. If there is a physical address, check it out using the Internet or Google Earth and see if it's a real address.
Request for Access to Your Computer
A common scam is a phone call from someone claiming to be a technician who has detected problems with your computer and would like to fix them for you free. Never give anyone remote access to your computer unless you have contacted them and are 100% certain they are not a scammer.
Untraceable Payment Method
Scammers prefer payment methods that are untraceable, such as wiring money through Western Union or other services. Be very suspicious of demands for wire transfers or cash payments. Never wire money to someone you do not know.
Scammers will often put pressure on their victims and urge them to pay immediately or lose the opportunity. A genuine business making a genuine offer will never pressure you to act immediately.