Scams: How to Avoid Them & Protect Yourself

Technology makes it easy for scammers to quickly target a vast number of potential victims. Scams may start via email, a text message, a web posting, or through a phone call, and they may use multiple forms of communication as the scam progresses.

Sometimes scams are generic. One of the most common scams is a tech support scam where a scammer contacts a random victim and attempts to convince the victim that something is wrong with their computer. The scammer walks the victim through installing software that allows the scammer to connect to the victim's computer. The scammer then accesses the victim's computer and pretends to fix the problem they called about. Sometimes this is as far as the scam goes. The scammer requests payment and moves on to their next victim. Usually, however, the scammer goes a step further and installs malware on the victim's computer to collect passwords and bank account information, which they can use to transfer even more money from the victim.

The most convincing, and regularly the most successful, scams are tailored to the victim. The scammer gathers information about the victim through social media, public information, compromised websites, or other means, and uses that information to create a believable narrative intended to persuade the victim into transferring money to the scammer. For individuals, scammers often impersonate family members and pretend that they need bail money after being arrested or ransom payment after being kidnapped. For businesses, scammers often impersonate the CEO or another manager and ask the employee to send money or gift cards or pay a fictitious invoice. The exact backstory the scammer chooses to follow will vary depending on the information they were able to obtain. Usually the narrative involves creating a sense of urgency to convince the victim to act quickly.

A common indicator that something is a scam is the use of gift cards and crypto currencies for payment. If you are asked to make a payment by gift card or crypto currency, it is likely a scam. None of the government agencies that cover the Town of McCandless, from local up to federal, accept gift cards or crypto currency as payment for taxes and other services.

The McCandless Police Department has investigated all types of scams. They advise that scams can often be avoided by independently verifying the caller's claims before acting on them. For potential tech support scams, the chances that you will receive a legitimate call, text message, or email about a malfunctioning computer are extremely small. If you believe that it could be legitimate, contact someone you can trust for help with technical problems. For other potential scams where someone you supposedly know claims to be in distress or otherwise needs money quickly, hang up and contact that person directly. If you are unable to reach them, contact someone you trust who can help to verify the emergency.

Scams are common. Independently verify a potential scammer's story and trust your instincts if something feels off. Do this and you can avoid falling victim to one.

For more information about scams, or if you believe you may be a victim of an online scam, please visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center.