‘If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.’
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But every day, enormous numbers of people are being scammed out of their money by increasingly sophisticated scams. Scams are as much a part of our lives as the internet these days. The rise of online activities have provided a new forum for scammers. Although fraudsters have been around since the snake chatted with Eve, never before have they been able to reach so many people, with so much anonymity. There is very little chance of getting your money back once it has left our shores. Even crossing state borders makes things difficult.
Scamming is a job for some people. It is how they make their living. They might put in eight hours a day looking for victims. In the same way anyone learning a profession becomes better with experience, some of these people are extremely good at their ‘job’. There is nothing personal about them targeting a particular victim. They don’t care if you are a pensioner/ single mum/ disabled/ a police officer. There is no mercy – only money.
If you have been scammed, don’t be too embarrassed. These people are professionals. You weren’t the first, you won’t be the last. People often won’t talk about it because they are embarrassed that they got sucked in. But it is quite common – I have even had a police officer colleague lose several hundred dollars through fraud. Be sure to learn from your mistake. You may be targeted for a ‘follow-up scam’, where the scammers will have another crack at you.
One of the biggest problems is people want to believe what they are told. They want to strike it lucky in the lottery, they want to sell their car at asking price, they want to find love.
There are things to watch out for. The minute anyone asks you to pay by Western Union money transfer – run for the hills. They will have some plausible excuse as to why the destination address is India or Romania. It is a cash transaction – there is no comeback for the victim. That is why it is the payment method of choice for scammers. Beware of this particularly on Gumtree and eBay.
Don’t be scared to back out of a sale or transaction if you start getting a bad feeling about it. A fraudster will try and guilt you into following through, trying to use your morals and scruples against you, even though they themselves have none. Seek help. Google it. Strange message come in on your mobile phone? Tap the sender’s number into Google. Email you don’t know if you can trust? Tap it into Google. Very often, the same number or email address has been used to scam other people who kindly put it on the internet to warn others.
An email appeared in my junk mail today. Apparently the Accountant-General of the Central Bank in Nigeria has selected little old me to assist with the transfer of US$20 million in unclaimed funds. My share will be 35%. Yes, I would like to receive $7 million. Heck, I’d settle for $700. But I have taken my own advice and googled ‘Jonah Ogunniyi Otunla’, the gentleman who purportedly sent me the email. He has gone to the trouble of setting up a Linked-In account, a Facebook account and a fake bank listing. But then all the scam warnings start popping up. You might think no one would fall for something so blatant, but these ‘Nigerian 419’ scams have been around for years now, and still persist, so it’s clearly worth someone’s time and effort.
With anonymity, there is also security. These people make blatant and repeated attempts because it is likely nothing will happen to them. Once your money has disappeared into some third world country, it’s gone, and the person who took it will never be identified, caught or punished. These people have a complete lack of scruples or empathy. They will do whatever it takes to get money. Your money.
There are more scams than I could list and there are people who are right now dreaming up new ones. Have a look at www.scamwatch.gov.au or your local office of fair trade. If you are a victim of a scam, you can report if to Scamwatch or through a police website online reporting service. Your information may help stop someone else from falling victim.
Remember – ‘Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.’