Anatomy of a Scam
Identify the Symptoms Rather Than The Scam
We are often asked to post information regarding the various scams that are occurring in our area and around the country. This is a difficult task and quite frankly, it's unnecessary. Most of the scams we see can be identified by their symptoms rather than the exact scam itself. If you are interested and would like to browse through individual scams, the Federal Trade Commission has a very long listing of individual scams with great tips on prevention.
On this page we would like to present the symptoms of the scam that can help you easily identify when somebody is trying to cheat you out of your hard earned money. This page does not address identity theft.
It Seems Too Good to Be True
Come on folks... If you had millions of dollars sitting in a bank account are you really going to give it to some stranger you randomly selected from the Internet? Wouldn't you give it to a family member, your favorite charity or maybe even your pet?
Do you really think you were randomly entered in a lottery without even filling out a form, buying a ticket or calling them to enter?
The point is, when something wonderful happens to you and you can't see the connection immediately, you should be suspicious. Check into the organization, individual or lottery in question. Often times, all you have to do is Google the name and you will immediately see that it's a scam.
Here's Your Check
You open you mail and find a check that you were not expecting. The sender tells you to go ahead and deposit the check and pay them back for something. What you are to deposit is larger then what you have to pay. The reason they provide varies, but the unexpected check is the symptom.
The check they sent you will always bounce. By the time you realize the check has bounced, it is too late and you are out the money you sent.
It Takes Money to Get Money
Lotteries do not ask you to pay your taxes or other fees from your money before they pay you. They will deduct any taxes out of your winnings. You should never have to pay them first. If somebody is asking you to pay before you receive your winnings, it's a scam.
There's An Emergency That You Have to Pay Now
Your Grandson (or other family member) is in another place and needs money now. The reason doesn't matter:
- Broke their neck,
- Rotting in jail,
- Car broke down...
Other emergency situations:
- You are delinquent on your taxes and you have to pay now,
- There is a warrant for your arrest and you have to pay now or the police are coming...
Any unexpected emergency that requires you to pay immediately is usually a scam.
Life does deal us bad news from time to time. It's important that you verify the bad news before you respond to it. If you don't recognize the voice on the telephone, verify that your Grandson is even in another place (or whatever the emergency is), before sending money. Understand that the IRS and law enforcement will not call you and request you to send money. Call your local police or the IRS to verify and consider your lawful lifestyle as well as your filing and paying tax status.
You Want Me to Pay How?
Scammers are able to convince people to pay in ways that boggle the mind. Do you really believe that the IRS is going to take iTunes card numbers for payment? Do you believe they routinely go to money transfer offices to pick up tax payments? Do you believe they take restaurant gift cards?
This may seem like common sense, but scammers can be so convincing that we do things that we look back at, and question our own sanity. When anyone asks you to wire money through a money transfer (wire) service you should immediately be suspicious. These services do have legitimate uses, but usually it is YOUR idea to use them, not someone else's. Gift cards are that... for gifts. You do not pay bills with gift cards period!
Speaking of payment methods, never give your credit card information, banking information, social security number, or any other personal information over the phone when somebody called you.
What Can I Do?
Scammers will prey on anyone. They do, however, seem to prefer the elderly and somehow know who has been taken before. Elderly citizens come from a time when people trusted one another and therefore tend to be more trusting. If you have been a victim of fraud in the past it is very likely that you will be repeatedly approached in the future.
The easy answer with high pressure, repeated telephone calls, is to hang up. Don't try to explain yourself. Just hang up. If they call back, hang up again.
If you are unsure if a situation is a scam or not, call for help. Call your family, call the IRS, or call the police department (whoever is asking for your money) by looking their telephone number up rather than asking them for it.
Be suspicious of any telephone call or e-mail where somebody is asking you for money or any personal information.
If in doubt call your local police department, our number is (402) 564-3201.
What Will the Columbus Police Do?
Due to the high volume of fraud activity, the Columbus Police Department will (usually) only investigate instances where there has been a loss of money. In some cases we will take the initial report and forward that report to the proper law enforcement agency for investigation.
We will take information regarding the method in attempted fraud cases, and try to disseminate that information. The fact is, however, that almost all fraud cases involve the symptoms listed above.
- Nebraska Attorney General's Office - Consumer Protection Division
- Federal Trade Commission Scam Alerts (you can subscribe to email alerts)
- ID Theft Resource Center