Even the sharpest minds are susceptible to tricks. That’s job security for guys like Penn and Teller, but it’s why internet scams work. Just as slight of hand fools the eye, built-in emotional vulnerabilities are what web scammers prey on.
The ease by which the web disseminates information ensures we deal with scams every day. And boy do we. The Federal Trade Commission said last year that a little over one-in-ten Americans – 25.6 million adults – were fraud victims in 2011.
What’s good about that number is it confirms we don’t live in a world of cynics and skeptics. Plenty of people find love or jobs on the web. But it’s a double-edged tool just like any created for millennia.
Let’s take a look at a common online con: “The Nanny Scam.” Essentially, it aims to make you the pawn in a fake check cashing scheme. It works like this.
The target responds to an online ad to become a nanny. The interviewer cultivates them – sometimes for weeks – and sends an advance on their service worth more than the selling price.
Next, the target is asked to refund the overage once they can access the funds. Not wanting to jinx a good thing, the target wires the money, which is then gone. The bad check can leave the victim with a substantial negative balance.
The New York Times had a good article about the scam in 2012, except it had a surprise ending – the target wisely told the check source to write her another check so she could avoid the overage refund.
You can’t be too careful these days. If you become suspicious about a check’s authenticity, consider the following:
- Try an online funds transfer that offers protection for you and the buyer.
- Don’t agree to deposit a stranger’s check and wire money back. This puts you in an awkward situation. Ask to get the money another way. Gauge their reaction to this wholly reasonable request.
- If you’re looking for a job on a website that posts millions of jobs each year and it sounds too good to be true – check out their advice on what to do.
To see the common web scams, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s scam blog – On Guard Online.
P.S. At the top of the FTC’s scam list – by a substantial margin – were scams involving weight loss products, comprising 5.1 million people. Not surprisingly, many of us can attest them promising more than they deliver.