The famous showman P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Sadly, there are just as many people who want to take advantage of them.
According to a recent survey of 2,000 people by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, more than eight in 10 consumers have received a “potentially fraudulent offer.” Of those, about 11% say they lost a “significant amount of money.” Significant is the right word—the most recent estimate put financial fraud at around $50 billion a year.
Whether it’s an email or a con man on the street begging for money, you must be mindful of offers that sound too good to be true. Here are some of the more popular financial scams that exist today:
1. Emails from abroad
Most everyone has seen the email in your spam folder from a Nigerian prince or similar party claiming they have an obscene amount of money but can’t access it because of their country’s policies. For a cut of the loot, you give them your bank information and they’ll send your share to you. But once they have your information, they’ll clean you out.
2. Lottery winners
No, we don’t mean actual lotteries (which are a scam in their own right). The email tells you you’ve won but must pay some fees in order to get the money. Think this is legit, or that you’ll ever see your money again? Take one guess . . .
3. Penny stocks
On message boards and blogs everywhere, you see ads for penny stocks, where you can buy shares for one cent. The theory is that, if one of them hits and starts trading for even a dollar a share, you’ll make bank. But what happens is that the price is inflated by the advertising, then the scammer sells his or her shares and takes the money. When the price falls back to earth, the investing victim is left with nothing.
4. Cold calls
These are more calculating than emails. A con artist calls you to make an investment pitch on something like gold coins or penny stocks but isn’t too aggressive and tries to get to know you. They also attempt to get you thinking about the future by promising to double your money or dangling the proverbial carrot in front of you. Once they’ve got you hooked, they’ll say you need to buy now before the opportunity goes away. If you take it, the only thing that will go away is your money.
5. In the news
Scammers are crafty and may base their latest ruse on whatever subject is making the headlines. If a big natural disaster hits some part of the country, you may get phone calls or emails asking for money to benefit those affected. Someone will benefit, but it isn’t the victims, and it certainly won’t be you.
Here's how to avoid becoming a victim:
- Beware of giving out your personal information. This is especially true if the requestor is someone you don’t know. Your personal data is just that—personal. If you give it out, you become exposed. Let’s say a person calls you asking for your Social Security number in order to send you some money that you’ve “won,” and you give it. What happens if they immediately hang up without identifying themselves? They’ve got a crucial piece of your information, and you’ve got big trouble.
- Watch out for bully-ish behavior. If you get an email seemingly from your bank that says you must provide personal information or “your account will be shut down immediately,” the sender of that email is trying to frighten or intimidate you. Legit businesses don’t do that. Not only do they not randomly delete accounts, they already have your information—and they certainly wouldn’t try to scare you about anything. That’s bad customer service.
- Buy identity theft insurance. This isn’t a scammer deterrent, but it will help you if one hits you. Learn more from Zander Insurance.
Remember, your most effective weapon against being scammed is good common sense. If you get an email saying you’ve won the Canadian lottery, stop and ask yourself some questions. Did you even play the lottery (hopefully not)? If so, did you play the one in Canada? Why would they tell you you’ve won by way of an email—one that is so junky it gets automatically thrown into your spam folder?
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Stay vigilant. A watchful eye is better than an empty wallet.