If you get a weird email from a friend or family member asking for money—or worse, asking for your personal financial info—then it's almost certainly a scam.
Scams and fraudsters have been around since the dawn of human civilization, and they are remarkably good at keeping up with all the latest trends and innovations. Once they get their hands on your money, you’re pretty much cooked.
Still, there are certain warning signs that almost all potential cons have in common. If you learn to identify them, it’ll put you one step ahead. That’s why we reached out to a number of experts in fraud and financial planning who shared these 12 handy signs that you’re about to get scammed.
1. Irreversible transactions.
Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified.com:
“Asking for irreversible transactions such as a money wire, prepaid gift cards, or cash. A reputable person/company will bill you professionally and through normal means.”
Brian Gill, Chairman and former CEO of Gillware Data Recovery:
“When an email from a company has spelling errors or bad grammar, it should be another warning sign. Large companies have copywriters and editors who make sure email communications are grammatically correct.”
“A letter or email with a well-known logo on it may not be what it seems. Check it carefully for typos, and compare it to anything you have received legitimately from the company in the past. If it looks right, double check with a call to the real company just to be completely sure.”
3. Unsecured websites.
Monica Eaton-Cardon, owner, co-founder, and COO of Chargebacks911:
NEVER make purchases at a website with an ‘http’ URL. Only make purchases on websites that are ‘https’. The ‘s’ indicates a higher level of security. Nowadays, all reputable eCommerce sites are https, including the major airlines, banks, stores, hotels and retail chains.
“If you receive an email solicitation to use at a website that’s ‘http,’ be extra careful. It could be a scam, and your data could be at a heightened risk of vulnerability.
4. Requests for personal or financial info.
“Never, ever, ever give out personal or sensitive information over email or the phone unless you are one hundred percent certain about the company. Your own bank is different from an unknown company trying to get your info to do anything they want with.
Adnan Raja, Vice President of Marketing for Atlantic.Net:
“Be wary of any phishing emails who may try to exploit you to gain access to your accounts. Avoid giving out your medical information over email or on the phone, unless you have already signed an authorization to do so.
“If available, always sign up for multi-factor authentication for online portals, which sends a pin code to your phone as a secondary security measure anytime you are trying to login to your account.”
5. Upfront payments.
“Unsolicited offers that require payment up front. Usually, these can seem legit, but a quick internet search will tell you everything you need to know. Be even more cautious if you cannot find them online.”
6. Aggressive sales tactics.
Kyle Kroeger, Founder of Millionaire Mob
“It’s no surprise that a scammer is going to try to sell you hard and fast on their ‘hypothetical’ product/service. If you receive aggressive sales tactics upfront and after you buy, be aware this might be a scam. Aggressive sales tactics include spammy behavior and spammy email addresses.”
7. Surprises in your inbox.
“When checking your email, stay suspicious and on alert. Often times a fraudulent email will try to scare you by saying something was stolen or that you’ve won a prize. Rather than clicking on links from your email, just go directly to the actual website and sign in how you normally would.”
8. Making you the money middleman.
“If you are being told to deposit money, and then to withdraw it and send it somewhere else, that is a huge red flag. Chances are, you are involved in illegal activity. There is no reason to be handling payments meant for another party.”
9. Weird money requests from friends, family, or colleagues.
Aletta Tibbets, Founder & Principal of Eos Financial Planning LLC:
“It’s increasingly popular to spoof email from a boss or colleague saying they need you to wire money or provide information right away. The best policy is to never rely on emails for this sort of directive. If they give some reason why they can only communicate via email, that’s a huge red flag.
“If the situation is one that involves someone you personally know, find a way to make voice contact with them before proceeding, or ask a question or two that only they would know.”
“If you receive an email where the “To” field is left blank, it’s a clear signal that it didn’t come from the perceived sender. Also, if the email begins with “Hello” but doesn’t actually state your name, that’s another red flag.”
“If someone is threatening you into giving them money, it is most definitely not on the up and up. Professional business and collectors do not threaten you.”
11. Fake online stores.
“During the months of March and April, you might receive highly-tempting emails from travel sites that promise amazing savings. Some of these emails could even appear to come from reputable, trustworthy companies. But beware: Fraudsters will design email offers and create fake websites that look very similar to legitimate stores. They do this to ‘phish’ for your financial information, so they can steal from your bank account.
“Consumers should proceed with caution and use common sense: Is the URL misspelled? Is it ”http’ and not ‘https?’ When you Google the site and/or the offer, are people warning you of fraud? Are the images low-resolution? Does the verbiage include spelling errors and grammatical mistakes? Is the offer too good to be true? And is it a website that you’ve never visited before?
These are the telltale signs of a fake online store. Delete the email, and do not submit your financial information. It isn’t worth the risk.”
12. Claiming to be from the government.
“Anyone working for the government is required to provide identification AND verification of that identity. If someone refuses to do this or does not check out, it is a scam.”
13. If it seems too good to be true … it probably is.
These are your Nigerian email scams, Craigslist buyers that offer to pay you extra, online job offers. When these arise people should default to the assumption that it’s a scam and do a lot of research before giving out any personal information. Your state regulatory agencies are one good place to check with if you’re not sure about something.
“If you see something that sounds like it’s hard to believe it’s real, this is one of the most common signs of a scam.”
It’s your money. Protect it.
Don’t let scammers sneak in and steal everything you’ve worked so hard to protect.
Monica Eaton-Cardone is the owner, co-founder, and COO of Chargebacks911 (@chargebacks911), the first global company dedicated to preventing chargeback fraud, eliminating cyber-shoplifting and safeguarding the “eCommerce experience” for retailers, banks, buyers and sellers. Chargebacks911 manages billions of online transactions annually and has helped its clients recover over $1 billion in disputed revenue. Monica is also the author of Chargebacks for Dummies (published in 2018), part of the best-selling instructional/reference book series.
Justin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses, and property records.
Aletta Tibbetts (@aletta) runs Eos Financial Planning LLC, a fee-only financial planning firm that works with technology and engineering professionals and startup founders to set personal and financial goals and construct a path to meet them. With an emphasis on client education and engagement, Aletta strives to help her clients and the public be more financially savvy. She writes about finance-related issues on the Eos blog.
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