The internet has opened up a vast new world for millions of people in ways that could hardly be conceived a generation ago, but while it has created a myriad of opportunities for online entrepreneurs, it has also opened a floodgate for scammers and con artists seeking to part unsuspecting consumers and internet users from their money. More traditional forms of communication are still used for this purpose as well, such as the telephone, but new types of scams that frequently originate from outside the U.S. have become very common. The targets of these swindles are usually the same: the elderly, the gullible and the emotionally vulnerable. In this article, we'll show you some common scams and how to recover if you've been victimized.
Scam 1: Suggesting Wire Transfers and Deposits
A common trend among scammers is to send out email blasts to thousands of people with a fictitious story about someone in a foreign country needing a transfer agent to help him or her transfer money to someone else in the U.S. These offers are all perpetrated by scam artists who are depending on you to receive the wired funds and forward on the now-cleared funds before your bank or savings institution can notify you the wire was fraudulent. Sometimes banks will even clear the wire prematurely and it is up to you to cover the loss of funds when the wire is later confirmed fraudulent.
This type of scam has been labeled a Nigerian scam due to much of this activity originating in Nigeria and other African countries, where internet scammers work around the clock to bilk American consumers out of their savings. This type of scam can also be disguised as a job offer in which one can earn a big profit by acting as a transfer agent for money wired in to the U.S. However, keep in mind that if the scammer's request were a legal need, a bank would have no problem acting as the wire transfer agent, and you would not be needed.
Scam 2: "You're a Winner!"
Another popular scam via telephone and the internet involves notifying the recipient they have won a cash prize and must send funds to cover insurance and taxes right away to the contest provider to receive their prize. Of course, both the provider and the cash prize are bogus, and the scam artist simply pockets any funds sent.
If you have applied to win any sort of prize online, you have probably opened up your inbox to receive hundreds of fake "You're a Winner!" emails. Simply updating your spam filter can prevent dozens of these emails from ever reaching you in the first place.
Scam 3: Creating the Victim Mentality
As stated previously, elderly people are often targeted in financial scams, especially those who have recently lost a loved one or undergone some other traumatic experience, such as a major health-related issue or other life-changing circumstance. The first few years after such a loss or change can leave many elderly persons especially vulnerable to ruthless con artists. (For more, see: Common Concerns for Retirees.)
These con men will first get to know the victim on a personal level to gain their trust. This is often accomplished by building up the victim's self-esteem with compliments and feigned sympathy over the victim's problems. Then the victim is duped into viewing anyone who tries to stop them from sending money as the enemy, someone who is trying to prevent them from receiving their rightful winnings.
Their opposition can come to be seen as a threat to their independence, particularly if the "winnings" to be collected will enable the victim to become more self-sufficient. However, if the victim becomes reluctant to send the requested funds, then the scam artist may become verbally intimidating or threatening, then immediately switch back to being the victim's friend once the person complies. (For related reading, see: Avoiding Online Investment Scams.)
The victim mentality can be extremely difficult to overcome, particularly for those seeking to protect their loved ones. If trying to convince a potential victim with words and actions hasn't worked, in many cases a power of attorney can allow children to take control of a parent's assets and prevent a fraudulent transfer of funds. However, this course of action can have severe repercussions on the relationship, and it may also validate the scammer's claim that the protector is trying to infringe on the victim's right to the winnings.
It is extremely difficult to get someone in the victim's position to admit he or she is a victim of fraud. One way to get around this is to ask the victim if you can participate in this contest as well, which will help the victim to think about the situation from another angle. Even if they can't admit it to themselves, many victims know the prize is too good to be true. So, while they may allow themselves to be duped, letting a loved one be swindled may be another matter. This approach allows the victim to change his or her mind about the situation while keeping a sense of dignity intact and avoiding invasive legal or financial action.
Even victims who come to see the truth may need to take further steps to stop scammers from contacting them again. Changing phone numbers and bank accounts may be necessary in some cases, and the new phone number should not be publicly listed. Of course all fraudulent activity, whether successful or unsuccessful, must be reported to the proper authorities, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In addition, simply putting scammers on hold and leaving them there can discourage them from calling back as well. And, as said above, a smart spam filter can stop any internet scammers in their tracks.
The Bottom Line
Millions of fraudulent requests for funds are made every day via telephone and internet. For more information on this matter, consult the NationalFraudInformationCenter. In addition, taking action now to better your relationship with your parents, elderly friends or other contacts can go a long way toward protecting them in the future. A discussion or two about the hazards of scams can do more for these people than helping them get back on track after they've already become victims. (For related reading, see: 7 Tips to Avoid Online Scams and Swindles.)