Got your attention? Well, then I’ve just done what many scam artists out there do to try to part you from your hard-earned retirement savings.
Financial scams are nothing new, and are even older than Charles Ponzi’s original scheme made famous in the 1920s. What’s different today is how efficient the Internet has made scam artists.
A treasure trove 0f financial details awaits anyone willing to pay for — or illegally obtain — marketing lists, data bases and email accounts of unsuspecting computer users. Perhaps the most pernicious of scams based on information is identity theft, which costs every American victim thousands of dollars and hits banks and businesses worldwide to the tune of several hundred billion dollars every year.
So considering there are untold numbers of schemers looking to raid your wallet, your best defense is knowing ahead of time some of the ways they’ll try to lure you in. Here are three scams you could come across:
‘We’re Holding Money for You’
One of my friends heard this phrase from a caller who identified herself as a “representative of a government agency” in charge of finding people who were owed refunds from the government.
All my friend had to do? Stroke a check to cover the taxes due on these supposed funds.
Even if you believe you might actually be owed money for some sort of rebate, you’ll never have to pay taxes up front for these funds. Even if you win the lottery, you don’t pay them out of your own existing funds — they’re taken out automatically for you from your winnings!
If anyone tells you they will release money upon receipt of funds from you, don’t buy it. If they call you, ask for their name, or the name of the organization, the amount, the reason it’s available and a number you can call to get back to them. Then hang up and alert the authorities. If someone makes this request online, don’t even respond to the email — just delete it and mark the scam artist’s email address in your spam filter.
‘I’m the Legal Representative for (someone you’ve never heard of)’
You get a letter in the mail from a “lawyer” representing a trust, or foundation or person who claims you have the right to an inheritance, or in my case, proceeds from an unopened lockbox in a country I’ve never heard of before. All I need to do is sign my name and return the enclosed document in the (not even prepaid!) envelope provided.
Do not sign that piece of paper, or any papers sent to you, if you don’t know the sender. You might have no idea what you signed up for, and that signature later can be forged for any purpose — fraud — by someone else.
Keep the document and any other contents as a reminder to never be duped, or just shred ‘em and forget ‘em.
‘There Is No Risk’
This isn’t necessarily a scam as much as it’s four of the most dangerous words in the scam artist dictionary — they’ve just taken it increasingly online. Whether it’s an investment scheme, an insurance hoax or some other flim-flam, this is the go-to phrase used to alleviate your concerns.
The old adage “If it sounds too goo to be true, it is” still holds. “Money for nothing.” “10% returns risk-free.” These claims are as bogus as the day is long. There’s plenty of risk. You send in money, which pays someone else who got the same pitch 30 days ago, which pays for … oh, a Ponzi scheme. Or you buy a particular “hot stock” that all of a sudden collapses within weeks.
These things actually happen. Don’t fool yourself and think that they don’t.
If you get that call or that pitch in your mailbox or email inbox and are even the least bit curious, investigate the source. A brokerage firm should be listed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, so look them up.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch. If you’re offered one, put your hands in your pockets to make sure your wallet’s still there, then walk away.
Marc Bastow is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace.com.