Online scam artists, often operating from overseas, use a variety of fraudulent schemes to trick people into sending money, often through wire transfers, or providing sensitive personal information that ends up being used to commit identity theft.
Here are some tips to help you stay safe online and avoid internet scams:
Never send money or personal information to someone you don’t know. Beware of unsolicited emails from strangers or online merchants you’ve never heard of. It is best to do business with companies you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider a payment option that provides protection, such as a credit card. Don’t send cash or a wire transfer, and don’t pay upfront fees for the promise of a big pay‐off – whether it’s an investment or prize money.
Just delete it. Don’t click on a link or open an attachment in an email unless you are absolutely certain who the sender is and the link or attachment is safe. Malicious links and attachments can secretly download software to steal information from your computer or direct you to fraudulent websites. To be better safe than sorry, call the sender and confirm that they actually sent you the email with the link or attachment.
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone contacts you promoting low‐risk, high‐return investment opportunities, stay away. You know you are being pitched a scam if the person offers guaranteed big profits, promises little or no financial risk, insists that you act now or demands that you send cash immediately.
Don’t play the foreign lottery. You cannot legally play a foreign lottery in the United States, so these pitches are always scams. And don’t be tempted by a message that claims you’ve already won. Inevitably, you will be told you must pay advance taxes or fees before you can receive your winnings. If you send money, you won’t get it back – and you won’t get any lottery prize, either.
Don’t send money to show your love in an online romance. A romance scammer works to build trust and give you a false sense the relationship must be real. The scammer may communicate with you for weeks or months before making the “ask” – send money. The excuse might be a medical emergency; a family member in trouble; an investment opportunity; financial straits due to a robbery, fire or other tragedy; or travel expenses to meet you. Except you will never see them – or your money. Beware of an online romance prospect who claims to be from the U.S. but is traveling or working overseas, or someone who pressures you to leave the dating website and instead communicate via personal email or instant messaging.
Don’t help the rich “Nigerian” with money problems. A common online scam is the message from someone who claims to be a foreign (often Nigerian) official, business owner or even royalty. They tell a sad story about how their riches are tied up temporarily, but you can help. They can get access to their millions – and they will share it with you or your favorite charity – if you will first pay the taxes or fees that are due. If you send your money to them, you can be sure you will never see theirs. Or, if you share your bank account information with them, you may discover that they drained all your funds.
Check with a trusted friend or family member. If you are contacted by someone online who wants you to send money or provide personal information, get a second opinion and a reality check from someone you trust. If you think you’ve already been defrauded, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. To protect others from being victims, report it to local law enforcement or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov).