Recently I drove past a couple of young men who were standing beside their car, which was parked in a right-turn lane near a gas station. They’d placed a red plastic gas can on the car’s roof, and they called out to passersby, asking for help.
Amazingly enough, those very same gentlemen were in the exact spot two days later. What an amazing streak of bad luck, hmmm?
I’m usually a fan of trusting your gut, but our guts are a little too naïve when it comes to con artists. “Con” is short for “confidence,” because these scamsters are experts at winning yours—at overcoming your suspicions, quieting your fears and giving you reasons to believe in them.
Here are four easy ways to avoid being their next victim:
1. Don’t click on links in emails. Emails purporting to be from your bank, your credit card company, PayPal, eBay, your best friend or any other source could be from con artists hoping to crack your computer—or your bank accounts. If you receive any kind of email alert that seems to require action on your part, open a new browser window and type in the address of the site yourself, or call the company on its toll-free line. Install, update and run antivirus and anti-spyware programs to prevent your computer from being taken over by others.
2. Don’t wire money to strangers. There are countless variations on counterfeit check scams, but they usually involve your depositing a legitimate-looking check and then wiring some of the money back to the scam artists. The bank will credit your deposit at first, before discovering it’s a fake, and then will take the money back out of your account—even if you’ve already spent it. Any transactions that bounce will be your responsibility; the bank owes you nothing.
3. Don’t open your door to a stranger. The risks to you are simply too great, and you could lose more than money. If there’s a true emergency, call 911 while the stranger waits outside. If they’re selling something, you’re not interested. (And by the way, if you don’t know them by sight, they’re strangers—even if they say they live in the neighborhood, or even next door.)
4. Don’t feel bad saying no. There’s no way for you to tell if a desperate stranger is just that, or a con artist. If you want to help people down on your luck, you can give money to legitimate charities.