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Are You Smart Enough to Spot a Scam?

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There’s an old quote that states, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” If we were going to paraphrase this idea for the modern-day marketplace, we could say something like, “The price of digital convenience is consistent carefulness.” The benefits of high-speed Internet, online banking, and 24/7 connectivity are undeniable, but if we’re not careful, the easy access can lull us to sleep when it comes to protecting our most sensitive information.

While some attempts to get your money can be laughable (you didn’t realize you were the last living relative of a Wakandan prince, did you?), others can be much harder to detect. From clever phishing emails that ask you to confirm your banking information to “miraculous” credit repair advertisements that come in the mail, it seems like scams are everywhere. In fact, the problem is so widespread that the US government maintains a webpage dedicated to the most common scams and frauds.

How to spot a fraud

Since we started with an old quote, let’s look at another one: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” This means any correspondence that begins with “You’re already a winner!” probably belongs in your trash can or your spam folder. But once you get past easy-to-spot warning signs like this, a recent U.S. News and World Report article suggests you steer clear of the following as well:

  • Requests for payment before providing actual information
  • Promises of easy money or ridiculously high income
  • High-pressure pitches or limited-time offers
  • Pop-up ads that require a download
  • Overly complex explanations when simple terms are enough

Some scams are harder to recognize

Unfortunately, some things that bring out the best in people can also bring out the worst in others. With recent disasters like the devastating hurricanes that tore through Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas, many people have looked for ways to contribute to humanitarian aid efforts. This uptick in charitable giving often leads to an increase in fraudulent activity as scammers try to cash in on the generosity of good people.

If you see a cause that you want to support, by all means, be as generous as you can. But be cautious as well. Even though it may take a few extra minutes to research the organization you’re giving to (a big deal when you consider that some donations can be made with a simple text message), protecting your bank account and your identity are worth taking a few simple precautions. With just a few clicks, you can check out charities using these online resources:

Since we’ve referenced a couple well-known adages already, it just makes sense to wrap up with one more from Ben Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Protecting yourself against scams doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require consistent attention to detail. Thankfully, a little work up front offers outstanding protection in the end. Remember, preventing fraud is easier than recovering from it.