Being scammed can feel like having your home invaded. Your sense of trust is broken, and you become determined not to let it happen again.
If you've been a victim of a scam, you may not be able to turn back time, but you can use it as an opportunity to learn some valuable lessons. Here are a few examples of what you can do to prevent being scammed in the future.
Don't trust everyone
It's understandable to trust a website, a phone call, or an email from an acquaintance. That said, scammers are good at using things that are familiar to target you. They'll also use guilt, fear, and aggression to push you to take action.
Whether scammers approach you posing as friends or family or as an aggressive debt collector that is about to take you to court, if something doesn't feel right, trust your gut. In fact, one thing people learn from being scammed is how important it is to check up on a source. So, how do you check?
If you have an email from a friend begging for money, pick up the phone and call them. Ask if they sent it. If it is a debt collector, verify they are legitimate by asking for specific information around the supposed debt or requesting they send the information via mail. You can also familiarize yourself with warning signs shared by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
If you are being asked to part with your money, it's crucial to check up on the source — especially if the request comes out of the blue. If you ever receive a suspicious phone call from a business, bank, or government agency, simply hang up and find their official number to call them yourself.
Scammers know more about you than you think
One of the things that makes certain scams so effective is the amount of personal information they have on you. It's how scammers can pose as family members and even replicate how they usually talk to trick you into sending money.
In the modern world, a shocking amount of personal information can be found about you online. Scammers can scour your social media accounts, yellow pages listings, and even Google search results to learn details about your life story. They can find out what brands you use, who your family members are, your hometown, even your first pet's name (a common bank security question).
All of that information points to your weaknesses — those elements of your life that are easy to manipulate, and scammers can and will use them.
It's helpful to keep your social media accounts private. It's also a good idea to remove yellow pages listings and information from data collection sites like PeopleFinder and Spokeo. They're free and far too easy to access.
There are also scammers that rely on online obituaries to find vulnerable victims, so keep any obituaries free of personal information.
Don't believe everything you see
Scammers frequently create complex online presences that are entirely fraudulent. For example, if you sell something on eBay, a common scam is to send you a fake email confirming a PayPal payment.
Facebook photographs and PayPal screenshots may be fake, and a reverse image search is an excellent way to confirm your suspicions.
If you feel the need to conduct a search, however, it means your gut is telling you something important. Listen to it.
Everything can be faked
A site with millions of visitors must be trustworthy, right? Again, no. It's easier than you might think to fake screenshots, but even if a website really does attract good numbers, it may still be a scam. There are some impressive-looking yet fraudulent e-commerce sites on the web that never deliver your purchases. Don't be convinced by a USPS tracking number. That, too, can be faked.
There are several ways to find out if a website is legitimate. A quick Google search will get you started. However, also check for a padlock symbol in the address bar that signifies they're using a secure HTTPS connection and look for any red flags (like bad grammar or invasive advertising) as well.
Scammers love aggressive tactics
Politeness does little to help scammers achieve their end goals, so they frequently use aggressive "marketing," spam, threats, shaming, and fear tactics. If you're feeling pressured to pay or provide information, you should likely resist.
Like poker players, scammers exploit your personal weaknesses while keeping their cards tightly hidden. They count on your niceness and trust.
Plenty of people don't hang up the phone like they should when they get an aggressive scammer contacting them. They worry about seeming rude or being wrong about feeling suspicious.
It might be a tough habit to break out of, but you should always prioritize your own safety and be firm with anyone you might think is a scammer. You likely won't care about being polite if you're scammed out of hundreds of dollars.
Scammers can prey on hope as well as fear
Not all scammers will focus on fear and aggressive tactics. Some will instead try tactics like creating and sending fake emails claiming you've won a competition or you're entitled to a tax refund.
These scams play into your hope and count on you not looking too closely into it. Unfortunately, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Understanding scammers makes it easier to avoid being scammed
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from being scammed. The best defense is knowing the tactics scammers use.
Learning about common scams like phishing, remote access computer scams, fake calls from the bank/IRS/government, and strange messages from friends or family asking for money will ensure you're well prepared to spot them.
While scammers like to refine their tactics all the time, they do tend to fall back on some common themes. They will exploit any personal information they know about you. They'll also exploit your politeness or your worries.
You know the companies you use most often, who your friends and family are, and the debts you owe. If something feels off, always do your research and go with your gut.