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Common Scams

These days, it seems like a new scam is born every minute. There are plenty of stories in the media about new schemes that steal money from companies, organizations and individual people. You may even know someone who had money or important information stolen from them through a scam.

Scams rely on social engineering (that is, someone pretending to be something they aren’t in order to get access to your information or resources) to work. This deception allows the scammer to be perceived as someone with authority or someone who has something you want. The scammer then asks for either money (or some other resource or currency) or information, which you may be tempted to provide. New scams are constantly being formulated, often after an incident (such as a pop culture event, a catastrophe, or a holiday) or using everyday emergencies as a pretext. By the time you finish reading the text on this page, there will likely be a slew of new scams; for this reason, it’s important to be able to spot the common characteristics that scams tend to share. Recognizing these schemes will allow you to evade most scams.

The Common Scam
Once you know the parts that make up most scams, they become easier to spot. Some scams are geared towards selling/giving you something. They often offer some sort of premium product or service for a price that is too good to be true, but you can only get in on this deal if you act now. The scammers may present themselves as anyone from a company, a government agency, to an individual.

Other scams will threaten you with some sort of penalty if you do not act soon (usually by either sharing your information or paying some sort of “fine”). The bad actors are likely to masquerade as government officials, or someone with authority.

Some types of scams will try to take advantage of a tragic situation. These events can be either real (a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, etc.) or invented (calling you to tell you that a family member is in the hospital or in jail). They will take advantage of your impulse to help.

What things should you look for when trying to identify whether a solicitation is legitimate or a scam? Most scams share some similar characteristics:

Now that you know what to look for, what can you do to prevent being scammed? And what can be done if you fall victim to a scam?