In this installment, we’re going to look at different ways you could be separated from your money, which you may later regret. Let’s call these all Scams or Fraud, even though some don’t meet the legal or the conventional definition of those terms.

Before I start, I want to mention that to many, these may be obvious, but they aren’t apparent to everyone as many folks fall for these scams.

General Scams

The first type I’m going to dive into is phone scams, particularly impersonation scams. With these, someone will call you claiming to be a government official. They could claim to be law enforcement, IRS, or Social Security Administration (SSA). 

Here are some facts to keep in mind when dealing with these scam artists:

  • Your social security number (SSN) is never canceled, blocked, or frozen. The SSA does not have the ability to do anything of the sort, so even if there was some sort of major issue, they literally couldn’t do any such thing. If there were a major issue with your SSN, they would write you a letter sent through the postal service, not call.
  • Police will never call to demand payment for unpaid fines or anything like that. If some pending payments warranted an arrest, they wouldn’t call to warn you or get you to pay over the phone. They would send a uniformed officer to visit you and escort you to the station or the courthouse where you might get a chance to square your issue.
  • Anyone calling and demanding payments in gift cards is a criminal.
  • Any unexpecting call from Microsoft, Apple, Google, Adobe, etc., claiming to be informing you of a problem with your computer and offering to fix it is a criminal.

In all these cases, the course of action is simple, hang upon them. If you wanted to toy with them or unload a few well-chosen, possibly even harsh words, no one could blame you. I do not recommend that, though; I suggest you simply hang up without saying a word. 

Also, be wary of giving out any information at all to anyone unknown that calls you. The person that initiates the call should bear the responsibility to identify themselves. I wouldn’t even give them my name before I have their name and know why they called. If they want to provide you with information, that’s fine, but I don’t tell them anything without absolute certainty that they are who they claim. 

The best approach is to say to them that you’ll call them back through the company’s main number. Then find the main number online or through directory assistance; ignore any number they may give you. 

If a Nigerian prince, wealthy businessman, or long-lost relative contacts you and asks you to stash their billions in your bank account for a few months in exchange for a cut of the fortune, don’t do it. Best case scenario, you’ll be an accomplice to money laundering, which is a severe crime in most countries. More likely, the criminal running the scam uses this ruse to get your bank details so they can clean it out for you. 

If you get a call or email that you won the lottery or some sort of sweepstakes, but you have to pay taxes and fees before you claiming your winnings, it is a scam. Any taxes or fees are always taken out of your winnings, never paid upfront. If you have never heard of this Lotto or sweepstakes, that should be your first clue. Entering sweepstakes or buying a lotto ticket is kind of the first and critical requirement to winning. If it is something, you believe you did enter or purchased a ticket for, hang up, and call the organization that you registered with to validate your winning and claim your prize.

Romance Scams

These types of scams prey on lonely people desperate for companionship. They start by reaching out via social media, claiming to want to become friends. They often rely heavily on stereotypes when selecting their personas and will use pictures that match their personas. For example, if they target someone they believe is a heterosexual male, they will present themself as an attractive 20 something woman. This sometimes backfires as few men have no interest in women that are half their age. I suppose this works enough times to make it worth it for them. After they’ve chatted you up for a while, they will confess some financial hardship and ask you to help. They talk big about talking on the phone or meeting in person at some future point, but that time never comes. It is always only in text, and there is always a story as to why they can’t talk to you on the phone until next week or month. They tend to get very personal very quickly and sometimes ask questions that could be used to steal your identity. 

If you are lonely enough to be tempted by these types of scams, reach out to us, and we’ll help you find more constructive and fruitful ways to fix your situation, free of charge and without any financial hardship stories on our end.

Scareware

This type of scams tries to scare or embarrass you into paying a ransom. The general premise is that they’ll claim they hacked your computer and found evidence of something they feel you might be embarrassed about, such as visiting an adult entertainment site. They claim they downloaded all your contacts, and if you don’t pay up, they’ll send said evidence to all your contacts. This is usually conducted over email, and they do their best to sound very technical. I see a lot of these, and every single one is completed nonsense. In my book, I take one example and break it down to debunk each and claim they make. I recommend treating this as general spam and delete it.

Borderline scams

Now let’s dive into situations where it might be disputed to call them scams. There is often a very fine line between effective marketing and scams/fraud; they use the same tactics. It basically comes down to how truthful the marketing is and whether you believe you got what you paid for. This naturally is very subjective. If you have buyers’ remorse and do not have the option to reverse the transaction, you end up feeling defrauded. If you feel cheated, then from your perspective, the deal was a fraud, which is why I include it here.

Many marketing campaigns, both in sales and in fundraising, employ emotional manipulation. Sales marketing like to use the principle of scarcity to manipulate you into making a purchase. They will try to convince you that something is about to sell out and that you need to jump now to make sure you can get yours. They often rely on something called FOMO, or fear of missing out, also known as “keeping up with the Jones” or “the rat race.” They try to make you feel inferior if you don’t have the latest whatever, and you can’t be seen around town without it, if you don’t have it, you will be made fun of in your social circles. FOMO can be very self-fulfilling; those that are deep into FOMO will often ostracize those they feel don’t have all the latest whatchamacallit and thus create FOMO in others. 

The advice here is simple, do you actually need it and what will happen if you wait and then the item is sold out. If it does sell out and never comes back in stock, that is a sign it was not a viable product, and you would likely have been unhappy with it. If it is a product that sells so fast that it goes out of stock, it will be back in stock soon. No product owner will let a viable product be unavailable for very long. In every case, the product owner has way more to lose to have the product go out of stock for even an hour than the actual consumer ever does. The only reason to mention scarcity in a marketing campaign is to emotionally manipulate people to create a demand that isn’t there.

Another form this might take is what I call fake sales. They claim they offer something to you for a steep discount, say 60-80% or even 95% off. When in reality, their sale price is the same or higher than comparable products elsewhere. Typically those that use this scheme are offering a product of inferior quality. I’ve fallen for this tactic many times and never received a quality product for less than usual retail. A spin on this is when they claim they are giving away the product, you just have to pay shipping and handling. Then come to find out the shipping and handling cost is more than the regular retail price elsewhere.

I am always extremely wary of product marketing that feel they need to resort to these sort of tactics.

Yet another spin is what I’d call the congratulatory tactic. This is where you get an email along the lines of “Congratulations, you now qualify (or been granted access) to buy our product.” I’m always like, “what sort of privileged elitist crap is this where I have to qualify to give you my money.” I suppose this is a spin on FOMO. On principle, I always ignore those emails as I am actively against elitism and privilege. 

In fundraising marketing, they tend to be even sneakier. They try to pretend that there is a personal connection, that if only you gave x dollars, the issue or campaign would be saved. If you don’t, the cause is lost, and it is all on you. They will try to manipulate your helpfulness, and ask you to just do them this one favor. The thing here to keep in mind is that you never owe anyone anything that you haven’t previously made promises to. This means that you owe some random person or entity on the internet absolutely nothing. If there is a cause, you want to donate either time, goods, or money to, by all means, do that. However, do not under any circumstances let them manipulate you into over-committing. 

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