A scam is a dishonest or fraudulent business or scheme in which someone attempts to steal money or something else of value from an unsuspecting victim. Scams are characterised by tricks, lies, deception and false representation. These can be perpetrated in many different ways, from lottery frauds to romance flukes to pyramid schemes.
Why do scams work?
Scams succeed because they play on blind spots or weak spots in people’s personalities. For example, online dating scammers play on their victims’ need for love and attention, while lottery fraudsters play on victims’ desire for money.
Scams can also succeed because of the tenacity and thoroughness of the scammer. These criminals are willing to invest tremendous amounts of time and energy into research to find out about their victims, or to create a false impression, so that they can seem legitimate and convincing. This may be one of the reasons why so many people believe that scammers have a knack for finding persons who are gullible and naive. While in some cases, the victims are gullible, there are other cases where the scammers have done their homework and really do seem like they are telling the truth.
Why do scam victims feel ashamed?
Many persons who have never been the victims of scams tend to pass harsh judgment on those who are, creating and perpetuating a culture of shame for those who have been deceived by scammers.
Types of scams
- Gambling, Lottery, Sweepstakes, Prizes & Fees Scams
- Dating & Romance Scams
- Computer Hacking
- Banking & Credit Card Fraud
- Job & Employment Scams
- Charity & Medical Help Fraud
- Identity Theft
- Pyramid, Pension & Investment Schemes
- Astrology & Psychic Scams
These all have a similar pattern: The scammer contacts victims via the phone, a letter, an email, or text and tells them that they have won a prize, or money, or something else in a competition they have no recollection of ever entering. But there’s a catch. In order to claim the prize, the victim has to send either money or personal information to the scammer, purportedly to cover taxes, or claim fees, or some other dubious fee.
How to protect yourself: Do not follow the instructions given. Do not send any money or personal information to the scammers. Report the scam immediately to the police or relevant authorities, and remember: if you win a competition, you should not have to pay to collect your prize; and you cannot win a prize in a competition you have not entered.
These scams occur when unsuspecting victims are conned into believing that the scammer is in love with them or interested in them romantically. This can happen online, when the scammer creates a profile on a dating site, or contacts the person via personal email; or it can happen in person, when the scammer approaches their victim and starts a relationship with the premeditated intention of deceiving them out of money or valuables.
How to protect yourself: Be wary of strangers, especially those who seem to know a lot about you; and do background checks on romantic prospects. Ensure that they are trustworthy before introducing them into your personal space, or involving them into very personal aspects of your life.
This happens when scammers get victims to click on links that allow malware onto computers, giving scammers access to victims’ private information and accounts. These links are sent via emails, or can appear on websites as ads. They often appear to come from legitimate organisations that victims trust.
How to protect yourself: Be careful what you click. If you are on a secure site, you should see “https://” before the web address, (the ‘s‘ representing secure). Do not go on website you do not know, and install antivirus and web protection software from reputable providers.
Card skimming is when a person uses a concealed attachment to copy a person’s credit card or ATM card information, and then uses that information to duplicate the card and make charges to the victim’s account. Card information can also be stolen when hidden cameras are inserted into ATM machines.
How to protect yourself: Ensure that you do not give out card information to sites or persons you do not trust, and conceal your PIN when entering it into point-of-sale or ATM machines.
Job & Employment Scams
These usually come under the bracket of ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes. Generally, victims are offered the opportunity to get big money quick by signing up for courses, self-employment or work-from-home jobs. These opportunities are advertised in all types of media. They then require persons to pay for courses which turn out to be useless, or for a ‘kit’ or ‘guide pack’ which also ends up being worthless, if it arrives at all. Other job scams might require victims to recruit other persons, without actually selling any goods or providing any identifiable services, all resulting in the victim doing the scammer a favour without getting any returns.
In an even more serious turn of events, scammers can lure victims into secluded or poorly guarded areas and then abduct them and use them for in illicit trades (eg, gun, drugs, sex), or even take their lives.
How to protect yourself: Seek employment through legitimate, trustworthy channels, and do your homework before committing to any company or organisation. When in doubt, seek assistance from trusted, reputable sources, or get legal advice.
Charity & Medical Help Fraud
There are persons who will pretend to represent charitable causes or individuals who are medically challenged. They will use sad stories to solicit money and other valuables from others under false pretence, often basing their story on a recent news item or a very topical issue. Another way of scamming persons is by promising them medical benefits that traditional treatments do not give. Often, victims end up paying for something they do not get, or giving money to a cause that ends up going into the scammer’s personal coffers.
How to protect yourself: Only give to registered charities. Research a charity group before you give to them, and ensure that you do thorough checks on all new medication or medical treatment before you commit. Get medical advice from your doctor or other trusted, reputable medical professionals.
This happens when a scammer copies a victim’s personal identification information and then pretends to be that person. This can happen after an online scam, or through false competitions and research or surveys which require persons to fill out forms with their personal information.
How to protect yourself: Be wary of researches done by random persons on the street, especially those who keep asking you very personal questions. Do NOT fill out forms for just anyone. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
A pyramid scheme usually includes a very high entrance fee that entitles you to part of a multi-level marketing scheme through which you must recruit other persons to earn money. Pension and investment schemes also require you to deposit and regularly contribute money to a fund that usually ends up giving you no returns.
How to protect yourself: Do your homework. There are government agencies with which legal companies are supposed to register. Ensure that you check these registries before you commit to anything. Get legal assistance and professional advice when uncertain. And if in doubt, leave it out!
Astrology & Psychic Scams
These are persons who claim to be able to predict the future, or read the stars. While there are persons who really can do this, many scammers will pretend to be able to assist persons to get a sense of clarity and direction in their lives if they pay large sums of money for ‘readings’.
How to protect yourself: Be very clear in your no. If they sense even a little hesitation, they will take it as encouragement. It’s best to avoid these kinds of persons altogether.