Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Scammers prey on those that are down on their luck

I wanted to write a blog about vulnerability to scams that is related to specific circumstances people find themselves in, as there are now so many scams exploiting people who find themselves at a low ebb in their lives.  When people are desperate, they are sometimes more willing to take risks they would not take otherwise.   First on the list are job scams.  Anyone looking for a job is already in a predicament.   They may be out of work and therefore probably financially low or they don't like their current job.  Either way, there is a need to find a new job and where there is a need - there is a scam. 
Scammers know that when people 'need' something, they will be more determined to attain it than when they just 'want' it and many scams exploit fundamental needs such as the need to be loved or the need to be financially secure.  Job scams are now very prevalent and scammers invest time and effort to post attractive jobs on legitimate job websites.  There are job offers that are advertised on websites but also those that are sent by email.  Jobs advertised via unsolicited emails tend to be simple (au-pair, nanny etc.) so that anyone can do them and the incentive tends to be very high (salary that is way above the current market rate for the job).  This is to ensure that whomever reads it is immediately interested. They are often too good to be true and therefore much easier to spot as scams.  But when you are actively looking for work, applying to certain job offers on legitimate websites, it is not so easy to tell who may scam you.  Some scammers are now aware that big incentives or glamorous jobs advertised will arouse suspicions, so the fraudulent jobs advertised may not stand out at first.  The advertised pay may be in line with market rates and often, scammers will copy the content from legitimate job offers. 

So how do you protect yourself from fraudulent job offers?  Usually, after you apply for the job, there will be some correspondence but the person may not be as interested in your background and experience as they would be if the job was legitimate.  They may ask you to pay a small fee for a training pack or to receive details of the job.  Some jobs are based on you purchasing products to sell and may not be a scam but if the job is not properly explained to you (i.e. are you employed or self-employed) I would walk away from it.  If the job is abroad, they may ask you for a fee to arrange a visa.  Some jobs, especially those advertising via emails for staff, such as au pairs or housekeepers, will almost always contain a story where there is an inability to have a proper interview, but instead, the person is keen to employ you and wire you some money for you to arrange some shopping etc.  Eventually they may say there is a problem with the wire transfer and they will ask you to send them some money or they may send you a cheque, asking you to send them a bank transfer for the same amount. The cheque then will bounce and the money you sent will be lost.

Lotteries are another popular thing that scammers do to catch out those that are down on their luck.  If you are short of money, you may be more likely to take greater risks with the little money you have. Letters and emails telling you that you are a winner of a sweepstake or a lottery that you did not enter will most likely result in the scammer asking you for a processing fee.  This fee might be small but you may be asked for other fees, such as a legal fee down the line and so on.  Either way, when you win something, it should not result in you paying for anything. 

So here is a little checklist (by no means exhaustive) explaining what to look for and what to do. 

1. Is the job too good to be true, is the person on the other end very keen to hire you?  If so, ask them lots of questions and if possible, request a meeting.  If they ask you for any fee, however small, you can be sure that it is not a legitimate job offer. They should be paying you, not the other way around.

2. Take your time to Google the job offer independently, lots of people report dodgy experiences on forums and you may find your story is familiar. Don't look for specific names (i.e. email from Mrs. Brown) as scammers will have many aliases.  Instead, focus on similarity in the scenario or a job description you were given - this is something scammers will not vary much as they don't want to get caught in a lie.

3.  If you have not entered a lottery, it is unlikely that you have won anything.  If you get an email saying you won a prize and you really want to respond, then first ask your friends and family if they entered you into anything and Google the company writing to you to see if anyone has flagged them as fraudulent.  If you have replied and they ask you for a fee, stop all correspondence. 

4. As always, talk it over with your friends and family, your support or community group if you attend one or anyone that would listen.  People will share their stories and you might find out if it is a scam that way.  Delay making any decisions for few days, especially if someone is pressuring you to make an instant decision.  Scammers are very good at pressuring people into making decisions on the spot.  There is a reason for that and it is not in your best interest, trust me.

5. Be aware that if you are feeling vulnerable at any point in your life, your desire to get yourself out of the situation may mean you will be more open to quick schemes offered by scammers. Try to scrutinise each offer as much as you can.  Seek professional advice if necessary.  Internet is a great tool for asking questions (forums, private blogs) that get answered by solicitors, doctors and so on.  It will give you some indication what to be careful of.

This list is not exhaustive, it is just a quick list of thoughts that you may employ if you encounter similar offers in your inbox and something is telling you all is not well.  And remember, scammers get tired of inquisitive people.  They are seen as non compliant so if you are not sure, ask lots of questions.  If it is a scam, they may drop you as a potential victim.  Even if they don't, you may spot a discrepancy that way.