Ten Ways To Spot A Scam
I have received hundreds of such messages, and analysed them carefully for clues and common traits. The result is a list of traits that should make any recipient think twice, no matter how tempting visions of easy millions may be.
10: The subject line, and often the message itself, are in all caps. This is one of those points that makes me wonder how scammers ever succeed at all. All caps are widely considered rude, few people use them, yet a significant percentage of scam e-mails I recieve continue to "boast" all cap subject lines, and a few are even written all in caps!
9: The phrasing of the message sounds stilted or odd. Even common words may be misspelled. Sure, all of us make the occasional typo, but most scammers did not grow up using English as their first language.
8: You are addressed in terms of unusual familiarity for a stranger. They may call you Dear, without using your name. Or they may offer a lengthy apology for contacting a stranger when such contact may be unwelcome. These, it seems, are awkward attempts to make you feel you can trust your new correspondent.
7: The message is sent from one e-mail address, but you are asked to reply to another address. The scammer is afraid some one he sent out his messages to will report his activities and have that address shut down, so he has another one to remain in contact with those foolish enough to reply.
6: The person contacting you claims to be either the relative of some deceased dignitary, a government functionary, a manager in a bank, or a barrister. There are scams that do not include any of these elements, but these are the most popular.
5: You are urged that "utmost secrecy is essential". One reason or another is advanced why you must not tell anyone else. Someone out there is willing to contact a stranger with these details, but they're afraid of what will happen if the stranger talks to anyone? This is a sure sign of a scam.
4: The message appears to be from someone deeply religious, who now wishes to give away an immense sum of money they have somehow acquired. They need your help to do this, of course. First, deeply religious people belong to religious organisations that will gladly accept their money. And no one needs help to give away money!
3: Your prospective "business partner" admits up front that what you are about to do may be unethical. The idea here is that many people assume if a person admits to doing something wrong, they must not be concealing anything. Which, of course, is wrong. Many people are happy to admit to some minor fault in order to distract others from much worse.
2: One of the most subtle scams involves a message asking you to help combat scammers by cooperating with some distant government and providing them with information. Of course, they can't let you contact the actual government, so they provide a "special" link or some other means of contact for you to send them information. If you are in doubt, contact the embassy of the government in question, on your own!
1: Perhaps the most dangerous scam is the one that suggests you actually are the missing heir of some obscure distant relative you've never heard of. Such things do really happen occasionally, so how can you ignore such a message? There is a very simple way to tell the difference. While there really are "missing heir finders" who locate those with a right to unclaimed estates, and expect a fee for their service, they will not ask you for money up front. Sometimes, a lawyer or someone else may have been instructed by a judge to locate a dead person's heirs; in that case, any payment they are due will automatically be deducted from the estate. In other cases, a missing heirs firm may locate you on their own initiative; when they ask you to pay to be given the details of the inheritance you are due, they will always ask you to sign an agreement that they receive a percentage of any amount you are entitled to claim. If you don't get any money, they get nothing. Any other arrangement is a scam.
This post was written, in part, for the most recent ProBlogger Group Writing Project. I was considering doing a post for this project, but at first I couldn't think of a worthwhile contribution. Then a debate I was reading elsewhere convinced me there are still quite a few people out there who really have a hard time believing their sudden "good luck" is really just a scam.