How to spot a scam

In just a few easy steps, you too can become a millionaire! If you follow these simple instructions, and pay a low monthly price of $29.95, you will be on your way to turning your life around! Sound too good to be true? How about this one? Hello sir/ma’am, this is your electric utility calling to collect an overdue payment. Unless you make a payment of $326.56 in the next hour, we will be disconnecting your power. Does it sound believable? Would you want to take the chance of having your power cut?

It is unfortunate but true in today’s world that we constantly need to be on the lookout for fraud or scams. As attackers increase their skills, it is becoming more difficult to spot a scam and I want to give you some things to be on the lookout for that may prevent you from becoming a victim.

There seems to be more and more scams that hit my email inbox on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, not to mention all the fraudulent phone calls I receive despite adding my number to the “Do Not Call List.” At the core of every scam is some type of “bait.” It is the part of the scam that makes us pause for a moment and ask ourselves, could this be true? To make matters worse, websites today are tracking our browsing and purchasing history. Therefore, you will often see advertisements for products that you are interested in while browsing the web. Attackers can leverage this information to create personalized scams which make the “bait” more enticing.

Everything on the internet is true, right? We all know this isn’t the case but everyone likes a good story. We are seeing an abundance of fake news on social media these days and it was especially true with the recent elections. These stories were fabricated to get you to click on them and in turn would return a profit to the advertiser. These are just some of the tactics used by scammers. With so many different methods, how does a person identify if something is real or a scam?

Is this too good to be true? This is one of the first questions I ask myself when determining if something is a scam. Often, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Is there an undue sense of urgency? In other words, scammers will try to “rush” you into making a decision so that you can’t give it adequate thought. This should be a red flag indicating that you need to take a closer look and verify the facts.  Another thing to look for are ultimatums. If you don’t do “this,” then this “bad thing” will happen to you. This is the case with the delinquent utility scams that are still circulating. Someone pretending to be from your local electric cooperative calls and tells you that if you don’t pay your bill they are going to shut off your power. Oftentimes they will request you purchase a prepaid debit card to make payment and avoid disconnection. They will also give you a very short amount of time to make the payment.

Let’s be clear, your electric cooperative will NEVER require you to pay your bill with a prepaid debit card. Members with delinquent accounts WILL receive an advance disconnection notification. Unfortunately, there is no magical formula I can give you to tell if something is a scam, but a little common sense goes a long way. Also, taking the time to slow down and digest what is in front of you, before making any decisions, will help bring clarity into any situation. When in doubt, error on the side of caution. Sometimes it is a good idea to do a search for the company in question and simply call and verify. Just be sure you look up the number yourself. Don’t call the number listed on caller id or the one given to you.

The next time you find yourself questioning whether something is a scam, take a moment to slow down and assess the situation. When in doubt, error on the side of caution. Chances are good that life WILL continue if you DON’T click on that link.