8. Business email compromise scam
How it works: You sent your client an invoice, but they didn’t pay after 30 days, so you sent a reminder that their payment was due. The client writes back and says they sent you a wire transfer. The only thing? You don’t accept payments via wire transfer.
What’s really going on is that someone broke into your business account and sent an email to your client with instructions on how to wire the money to pay their balance. The client sent the money, but not to you. The scammer now has the money, and the account is either closed or can’t be found.
The FBI says that the two biggest online scams right now are business email compromise (BEC) scams and email account compromise (EAC) scams. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) got 19,954 BEC/EAC complaints, which meant that almost $2.4 billion was lost.
BEC/EAC scams have been around for a long time, but they are getting better and more complex. “These fraudulent wire transfers are often sent right away to cryptocurrency wallets and then quickly spread out,” the FBI says in its internet crime report. This makes it harder to get the money back.
Set up two-factor authentication codes for everything, but especially for your work email, to get around this. When sending out invoices, be clear about how clients can pay, and avoid wire transfers if possible.
Even if you do everything right, someone could still hack into your business or personal email and try to scam you. If this happens, you should tell the IC3 about it right away. In 2021, the IC3 was able to stop 1,726 BEC incidents, which saved customers about $329 million.
9. Scam with fake goods
How it works: You’re shopping online, as anyone would. You find what looks like a great deal on Amazon (for new items) or eBay or other resale sites (for used items) and place an order. Everything looks good… until you get what you want.
What’s really going on is that the seller is a scammer who will send you a fake product (or nothing at all) and still get your money. Most of the time, these scammers give delivery dates that are three or four weeks after the purchase date, and they usually get paid before you realize it was a scam.
Big picture: Selling fake goods is a big problem that hurts not only buyers but also other sellers. “There has been a lot of theft of intellectual property, including Marvel, Disney, Star Wars, NFL teams, and sports jerseys,” says Monica Eaton, COO of Chargebacks911. “There are a lot of scams on Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, Craigslist, and other sites.”
Some people don’t care about fake or knockoff goods. For some, a fake Louis Vuitton looks just like the real thing, but that’s their choice, and they should know what they’re buying.
Avoidance strategy: Be wary of “just launched” sellers (new sellers), and read the seller’s reviews carefully before you buy. Read the reviews with one and two stars as well as the ones with five stars, look closely at the photos reviewers have added, and read what they have to say. (If the testimonial is full of cliches, it’s probably fake.)
Positive reviews are usually a good sign, but if a new seller has 20 five-star reviews and the product is listed as brand-new but for a fraction of the retail price, that’s a red flag. As a general rule, stick with sellers whose products have hundreds of reviews and an average rating of four stars or higher.
10. Hitman rip off
How it works: Someone sends you an email or text message saying that he has been hired to kill you or take a family member hostage. In exchange for your safety, he tells you to send a lot of money through Cash App or another method that can’t be undone. Most of the time, the email will also tell you not to call the police because that will only make things worse.
The truth is that there is no assassin. Someone found your email address by chance (along with hundreds of others) and just wants your money.
What’s going on: The first thing you might think is, “How could anyone fall for this?” But keep in mind that if someone has just been threatened with murder online, their first reaction is probably to panic. Even scarier, many of these scams use personal information about the victim, like where they (or their loved ones) work, go to school, or live, which can be easily found on social media.
To avoid getting one of these scary messages, you can block the number. If you answer the scammer, they’ll know they’ve reached a real account, and they’ll probably try to scare you even more. Next, call the police in your area. The scammer is probably on the other side of the world and not in your town, but the police need to know in case there is a real threat.
Also, watch what you share online. You might think it’s harmless to share photos of your home and car, but these details can be used against you to trick your loved ones into thinking the scammers know who you are, where you live, and will hurt you if they don’t get their money.
11. Travel scam
What happens: You see a post on social media or get an email about a great deal on plane tickets or a trip that includes everything to a fun place like Paris or Fiji. And it’s really amazing: it’s a $10,000 vacation for only $999. Why wouldn’t you say yes?
What’s really going on: Like the “free trial” scam, travel scams often hide extra costs in the fine print. If it does, the initial fee won’t cover much, and you’ll have to pay thousands more in resort fees. Or you might never get that confirmation code in your email. Either way, the scammer will now have your credit card information or will ask you to pay with CashApp or Zelle, leaving you vulnerable to more theft.
The summer, when people are thinking about going on vacation, is the most popular time for these kinds of online scams, but they are also common right before Christmas and New Year’s. Scammers choose exotic, far-away places that would be hard to reach without their “amazing offer.” Lastly, they add an end date, telling you that you only have a few days or even hours to take advantage of this deal. They do this to make you feel like you need to act quickly and get the deal.
Check the offer’s details before clicking any kind of confirmation button. You can also Google the site and/or the email offer to see if anyone has warned of fraud. The email or website will also have a lot of signs that it’s not real. “Are the pictures of low quality? Does the writing have mistakes with spelling and grammar?” Eaton asks. “These are the signs of a fake online store, organization, or website. “Delete the email and don’t give them your information.”
Keep in mind that fake websites look like real ones, but major airlines, banks, and hotel chains, as well as reputable e-commerce sites, use website addresses that start with “https.” Eaton says, “The “s” means a higher level of security.” “However, most scam sites are http because they cost less than https sites.” Next, find out how to tell if an Instagram account is fake.
12. Empty house rip-off
How it works: You’re on vacation and having the best time of your life. You want to show your friends and Instagram followers how much fun you’re having. You post a few photos from Lisbon and say, “Next stop, the Amalfi Coast!” You don’t give it a second thought, but when you get home, your house has been broken into and stolen from.
What’s really going on is that thieves look through social media sites for pictures of people who are out of town. This way, they can find empty homes to break into. Some even read the news about people who have died. This is mostly an offline scam, but the fact that you do things online makes you a possible victim.
The big picture: Criminals look for clues that you will be out of town. For example, it’s pretty common for people to share photos from a bridal shower with the caption, “This time next month, we’ll all be partying in Vermont!” Scammers, on the other hand, take note and come back when they think you’ll be away. Even though there are no official numbers on how many burglaries are caused by this kind of online scam, Eaton says that 60% of burglary victims were on social media every day or several times a week.
Avoidance maneuver: Wait to post photos until you’re back, and don’t post information about future events. If you don’t, you’re not only putting yourself in danger. For example, if you’re going to a family wedding, a con artist could find out that dozens of people in your community are out for the night or out of town for a long weekend. These people are now also possible victims.
If you really, really want to share, Eaton suggests changing your privacy settings so that only close friends or a certain group can see those photos. As an extra safety measure to avoid an Instagram scam, it’s always a good idea to leave a few lights on and have neighbors pick up mail and packages so it doesn’t look like no one is home. Next, read about how scammers can get into your Instagram account.
13. Elder financial scam
How it works: Someone close to them dies. They are alone and lonely until another widow finds them on Facebook and says, “I know what you’re going through.” They quickly become close friends. Then, one of them has an emergency, like a sick grandchild or a sudden car repair, and needs money right away.
What’s really going on is that this new “friend” is a scammer, not a friend. They might leave after the first payment is made, or they might stay to see how much more they can get from the innocent elder. In elder fraud, the scammer might also try to take over the elder’s bank accounts and even steal their identity.
The big picture: Jason Zirkle, training director at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, says that scammers are more likely to target seniors because they have more money in one place (like retirement accounts, pensions, etc.). “Also, scammers think that Baby Boomers are more respectful of authority, that widows are lonely, and that older people are afraid to ask for help because they don’t want to be a burden on caregivers.”
Darius Kingsley, head of business practices at Chase, says that the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to learn the red flags that can help you avoid becoming a victim. If you think this is already happening to someone you know, look for the following signs: a new friend they don’t want you to know about, changed spending habits, bounced checks after a lifetime of being responsible with money, or a desire to cash out IRAs and/or change their will.
Make sure the older people in your life know what to do if they get spam calls, and encourage them to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Seniors can also fill out a Financial Vulnerability Survey and set up an account-monitoring service like Carefull to look for suspicious activity in their bank, credit card, and investment accounts.
14. Google Voice scam
How it works: You put something up for sale on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, and someone messages you to say they’re interested in buying it. First, though, they need a two-factor authentication (2FA) code to make sure you are who you say you are. They’ll tell you that they need to be careful because they’ve heard about scams and fake online ads.
What’s really going on is that Google is sending you the 2FA code via SMS. If you give the scammer your code, they will be able to set up an account in your name. Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech, says, “The attackers claim a new Google Voice number that is linked to your real phone number.” “Then, scammers can use Google Voice to send spam calls and texts under your name, and you probably won’t know.”
The big picture: Over time, spam calls have changed how they show up. Before, the number would say “unavailable” or “800,” and most people would just ignore those. Now, the numbers look like they’re from your home area code or sometimes even your home city, which makes people think they’re real. In the Google Voice scam, the con artist uses your identity to hide their own so they can contact people and try to rip them off. The scammer may also be able to get other information from the link they send, and if they get enough, they can open accounts in your name.
Avoidance: If you want to buy and sell things online, use the app for all communication and payments. If you go offline, you won’t be safe and you won’t be able to get your money back. This doesn’t work for Craigslist, but they can encrypt your email for you. It does work for most other sites where you can sell things online, though.