If every email that said I was due an inheritance, being transferred funds for a fictitious job or had unclaimed funds in my Paypal account were true, I’d be on a beach in Hawaii sipping pina coladas out of a pineapple. Sadly, I don’t have a long-lost aunt who has left me millions. I do however have an account full of emails offering to solve my money woes if I hand over just a little information – my bank information, credit card and social insurance number.
These days I read scam emails for a laugh, however, I realize there are those out there who may not recognize their illegitimacy and likewise, there are scams that aren’t so easy to suss out. So how do you know if you’re receiving a legit email from Paypal, Apple or your bank, or if it’s another fraudster trying to get your money?
First let’s try to understand the difference between Spam and a Scam.
While both are annoying, spam is generally unwanted information sent to you in an effort to sell you something. Scams, however, are generally sent with the malicious intent of getting you to hand over personal information or money for a service you didn’t order. For instance, an email you did not sign up for, from a company offering you enhancement products is a spam email. However, an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate company you deal with and asking you to download a receipt from a recent purchase you didn’t make is a scam.
Spam and scams can take other forms.
Today’s spam and scams are not just restricted to email. As technology advances, so do the ways criminals try to fraud you out of your money and personal information. We’re all familiar with the 6 o’clock telemarketer calls. Just as you’re sitting down to dinner the phone rings with someone trying to make a quick sale. As annoying as they are, they’re mostly harmless. What we now need to be concerned with are the calls from the “Canada Revenue Agency” threatening jail time if you don’t immediately call and provide your Social Insurance Number and payment for outstanding taxes.
Additionally, with the convenience of Interac E-Transfers and text transfers, you have to be careful that money sent to you via text message or email is legitimate before you click to accept and unwittingly upload your bank information to a con artist.
You won’t escape fraudsters by mail either. A warning story I often like to share is of a client who received a letter in the mail from an Internet Domain Name Service demanding money to renew her search engine domain registration, a tricky turn of phrase to make you think you need to renew your domain. The letter listed her name and her domain and looked legit, so thinking nothing of it, she drafted a cheque and mailed it off. When the time came for her domain to legitimately renew she was surprised to be receiving another bill. A little research uncovered the scam, a costly lesson to learn.
So how can you protect yourself?
Here are a few tips:
1. Looks for the tells – A lot of scams have pretty easy giveaways. Poor punctuation, improper word usage and just an overall unprofessional appearance are all trademarks of a scam email.
2. Look at the FROM field – This can be a tricky one. Sometimes it’s obvious that an email from email@example.com sending you a receipt for an Apple purchase isn’t legit. But what about an email from firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Both are fake but could make you doubt yourself. If you make purchases from Apple, check the FROM field on a previous email and when in doubt, call Apple yourself to verify.
3. Be skeptical – If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, we don’t all have mysterious benefactors who want to provide for us.
4. Don’t spend money upfront to earn money down the line – This mostly relates to emails from strangers in dire need of someone to facilitate the movement of funds from one country to another.
5. Don’t make hasty decisions – What’s the rush? Someone who is pushing you to spend money or give information may have nefarious intentions. Beware.
6. Check Snopes – One key thing I say to anyone when it comes to something suspicious is to check Snopes.com. Snopes is a valuable fact-checking source for identifying scams. It’s also a great place to disprove urban myths and outlandish claims.
7. Ask someone – Scams continue to fraud people out of their information and money every day because some of them truly look legit. If you’re unsure, have someone else take a look before you click. It’s better to say you’re not sure now than say I didn’t know later.
Stay informed. The best protection against fraudsters is awareness. In an ever-changing technological world, the way in which con artists try to trick you out of your money or personal information will also continue to change. Being aware of the potential cons is the best way to avoid them.