How to Avoid Online ScamsHow to Avoid Online Scams

Today’s technology can be a huge help in conducting business, staying in touch, and finding solutions to every day problems. However, with the increase of time spent online, it is easier than ever for people to fall victim to scam artists. Unlike the real world, where you can avoid dangerous neighborhoods or questionable people, it’s harder than ever to know what’s reputable and what’s not when it comes to online communications and business, especially for seniors who come from a time where person-to-person business was more common and trustworthy.

Below are four tips that will help anyone, but especially seniors, to avoid online scams that can drain bank accounts and cause other types of trouble for finances and even personal identity records.

1. Do your research.

Before you do business with a company that you’ve found online, do a quick search for the company name. Look for the physical address, making sure it’s not just a P.O. Box, and also look for reviews. You can also try typing in the company’s name and adding the word “scam” or “complaint” behind it in the search bar, and see what pops up on your search results page.

It’s best to do business with companies you know and trust, in real life and online. If you do choose to purchase something online or through an online auction site, use a payment method that offers a level of protection, like a credit card or a site like PayPal. Never send or give out sensitive financial or identification information (especially your social security number) to any untrusted source.

2. Keep a close eye on your “virtual” wallet.

Remember that wiring money is just like sending real cash or a check, only harder to track or reverse. That’s why it’s common for online scammers, especially from foreign countries, to ask victims to wire them funds. Know that many scammers will reach out through an email (called “phishing”) and claim to be a friend or relative in an emergency, insisting that money be wired to help them, or that a transaction be kept secret. These types of communications are all red flags.

Also be sure to keep a close eye on your financial statements; today many banks make it easy to track your accounts in real-time from your computer or phone. If you see unexpected or unknown charges (some scammers, for example, get extra money from you by charging hidden, recurring “membership fees”), be sure to notify your bank and stop the charges.

3. If it’s too god to be true, it probably is.

In the online world, just like in real life, there are some proposals and deals that really are too good to be true. Never agree to pay for something or send an unknown person or company funds in exchange for a promised good at a later date, especially fs the situation presented is especially low-risk, high-payout.  Scammers may insist you “act now,” guaranteeing big profits with little or no financial risk, demanding that you send cash immediately. Just like in the real world, there’s no sure thing when it comes to investing your money.

Remember also that it is illegal to play any foreign lottery. Although a scammer may tell you you’ve won a great prize, know that they will also be asking you to pay  “taxes,” “fees,” or “customs duties” to collect it.  Similarly, don’t trust someone asking you to cash a check for them then returning only a portion of the money, no matter how convincing the story. It can take weeks for a bank to discover a check is fake, and you will be held responsible financially for any fake checks you deposit.

4. Keep up with scams.

Agencies like the Federal Trade Commission have fraud alert pages dedicated to listing out the most recent online scams taking place, so check them regularly, or whenever you get a questionable request. Global events and hot topics are often exploited by scammers, such as natural disasters (only donate to trusted, reputable sources) and tax season (scammers claiming to contact you from the IRS or legitimate-sounding but imaginary agencies like the “Bureau of Defaulters”).

Seniors may also be targets for health-related scams, and should always and only purchase medicines or supplements from trusted U.S. pharmacies. Otherwise, they are taking a risk with a product that could be mislabeled, expired, or even completely fake. You may pay for the product and never receive it, with no way to get your money back. Scammers can create very attractive and legitimate-looking websites, using fake success stories and models; don’t buy into a product without checking with your own doctor as well.

You can report any attempts at scams or phishing to the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/complaint to help battle online fraud.

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

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