Don’t Be the Next April Fool

fool 150x150 Dont Be the Next April Fool

You may be the type of person who appreciates the humor and fun of a good prank, especially today on April Fools’ Day. You probably join in the laughter, even if you happen to be the butt of the prank, because you know it’s harmless fun. And while pranks are all in good fun, scams are definitely not. Realizing you’ve been fooled by some anonymous cyber criminal is a completely horrible feeling. It’s not a harmless prank; it could end up costing your savings, plus the added stress of trying to get some of that money back or alert the authorities in an attempt to catch the perpetrator. Trust me, you never want to be on the receiving end of that type of ‘prank’ and it will save you time and money in the long run if you take precautionary measures now in order to avoid the scams out there.

Understand the Common Characteristics of a Scam Victim

Scammers are good at identifying what personality traits make a person more susceptible to a scam. They are constantly on the lookout for these traits and pick out their targets according. Be aware at what might make you vulnerable and avoid being the next target:

-Unquestioning credulity (i.e. gullibility): Scam victims often take scammers at their word, often believing the best of people. Never trust the word of a stranger, even if they say they are an authority figure or government worker. It is always best to ask questions, do research and check with BBB.

-Easily affected by emotions: People that let themselves get emotional and whose actions are influenced by their emotional are more vulnerable to scams. They let feelings such as fear, greed, romance or excitement blind them from reason and keep them from noticing even the most obvious scams.

-Impulsive: Sometimes acting impulsively can be a good thing, but when it comes to scams it keep people from using common sense. People who are impulsive are more likely to download files, click on pop-up ads, open strange email and sign up for trial offers without a second thought.

-Too nice or polite: While there is nothing wrong with being nice and polite, sometimes avoiding a scam requires a little rudeness. This could mean hanging up an unsolicited phone call or shutting your door on someone offering to do some handy work. Don’t consider it an act of rudeness, but rather an act of precaution.

-Are not protective of their information: When someone is not aware of the sensitivity of their personal information, it makes them more susceptible to giving this information unknowingly to scammers. This includes signing up for websites or trials with credit card information, giving out their SS number when prompted, not bothering to shred sensitive documents, using the same password for every account; the list goes on and on. A piece of personal information, even if it seems harmless, should always be closely guarded.

-Dealing with financial troubles: People who are worried about money will fall for scams simply out of desperation. If you have recently lost a job or are drowning in debt, a quick fix might seem like a saving grace. Unfortunately, there is no ‘quick fix’ for financial troubles. It is a long and arduous process that requires planning and patience. Don’t fall for a scam that promises the impossible.

-Ignoring the fine print: Those who pursue offers from strangers or random websites should always fully understand what they are agreeing to. It is hard to fight paying that monthly credit card charge if you signed off on it unknowingly. Also, beware of any deals that seem to come with multiple strings attached.

Other characteristics include living alone, rushing into decisions, not recognizing common persuasion tactics and not telling anyone once they’ve been scammed.

Know the ‘BBB Top Scams of 2013′

Being aware of the most widespread and damaging scams can help you recognize when you are the target before you become a victim.

Medical Alert Scam – With promises of a “free” medical alert system, this telemarketing scam targeted seniors and caretakers and claimed to be offering the system free of charge because a family member or friend had already paid for it. In many cases, seniors were asked to provide their bank account or credit information to “verify” their identity and, as a result, were charged a monthly service fee for a product they never received.

Auction Reseller Scam – Scammers have figured out a way to fool sellers on sites such as Ebay into shipping goods without receiving payment. Usually the buyer claims it’s an “emergency” of some sort and asks the seller to ship the same day. The seller receives an email that looks like it’s from PayPal confirming the payment, but emails are easy to fake.  

Arrest Warrant Scam – In this scam, con artists are taking advantage of fake Caller ID technology, allowing them to pose as law enforcement. They call to say there is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges via wire transfer or pre-paid debit card. The scammer may refer to a loan or other personal financial matter, but it’s simply a lucky guess.

Invisible Home Improvements – Home improvement scams vary little from year to year, and most involve some type of shoddy workmanship from unlicensed or untrained workers. Scammers may simply knock at your door offering a great deal because they were “in the neighborhood,” but more and more they are using telemarketing, email and even social media to reach homeowners.

Casting Call Scam – Scammers pose as agents or talent scouts looking for actors, singers, models, reality show contestants, etc., and use phony audition notices to fool aspiring performers into paying to try out for parts that don’t exist. It can simply be an unscrupulous way to sell acting lessons, photography services, etc., or it can be an outright scam for things like fees for online “applications” or upcoming “casting calls.”

Foreign Currency Scam – Investments in foreign currency can sound like a great idea, and scammers frequently use real current events and news stories to make their pitches even more appealing. Unlike previous hoaxes, you may even take possession of real currency. The problem is that they will be very difficult to sell, and it’s extremely unlikely they will ever significantly increase in value.

Scam Texts – One major tactic recently is the use of scam texts, known as “smishing,” to steal personal information. They look like a text alert from your bank, asking you to confirm information or “reactivate your debit card” by following a link on your smart phone. As a result scammers get your banking information, including your ATM number and PIN.

Do Not Call Scams – The National Do Not Call Registry (U.S.) or the National Do Not Call List (Canada) offer consumers a free way to reduce telemarketing calls. Scammers have found a way to scam consumers by pretending to be a government official calling to sign you up or confirming your previous participation on the Do Not call list! Scammers ask for personal information or try to charge a fee to join the registry.

Fake Friend Scam – A popular recent scam has been the theft of people’s online identities to create fake profiles, which can be used in a variety of ways. A new Friend, the scammer, can learn a lot about you to scam you later, “recommend” sketchy websites that download malware, use your account to scrap information on your other Friends, even try to perpetrate a romance scam.

More information for consumers:

  • For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scamstopper. Sign up for our Scam Alerts and learn about new scams as soon as we do.
  • For more information on investment scams, go to BBB Smart Investing, a partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
  • To search for a business in the U.S. or Canada, or to find your local BBB, go to BBB.org.
  • For information on charities, go to Give.org.
  • For information on U.S. government services, go to: USA.gov.
  • For information on Canadian government services, go to Service Canada.

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About Hannah Sassi

Hi, my name is Hannah Sassi and I am the Communications Intern for the Council of Better Business Bureaus in Arlington, VA. My hometown is Hatfield, Massachusetts and I am currently a freshman at The George Washington University majoring in Business with a specialization in Economics and Public Policy.