How to Avoid the Latest Online Scams

It might seem like the scammers and swindlers are always one step ahead, but once you understand their playbook, you can see through their tricks. These are the most common scams right now and how to avoid them.

Scammers are always looking for new opportunities to rob you of your hard-earned money—and even your very identity. These scams seem to get a little more sophisticated every year, so it’s more important than ever that you learn how to spot the signs.

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Today, we’re looking at two types of very common scams that target people online. Although they prey on different victims, both of these scams operate in a similar way. Whether you’re looking for a job or for love online, watch out!

Hot Right Now: Job Scams

Scammers pay attention to current events and tailor age-old scams to fit. Every spring, for example, tax scams pop up. If the government offers a stimulus check, then fraudsters try to take advantage of it. Right now, millions of dissatisfied workers are flooding the job market, all of them hoping to find work that pays well and respects them.

Unfortunately, there are more people looking for those kinds of jobs than there are opportunities. Scammers are taking advantage of that situation by ratcheting up the number of fake job ads online.

One young woman on TikTok described her experience with a very sophisticated job scam that included a video interview and official letterhead from the company she wanted to work for! Lara Lafferty applied for an opportunity to work as a proofreader for the popular cooking website Delish. She found the gig on Upwork, a popular clearinghouse for freelance work, and it seemed perfect. She could work flexible hours, and the pay was more than generous.

At that point, Ms. Lafferty experienced a twinge of uncertainty. Delish is a high-profile website, and most of the jobs posted on Upwork were from much smaller companies or individuals. Still, the chance was too good to pass up. Just hours after she applied, she was contacted for an interview on Skype. Lafferty thought that was odd since almost everyone uses Zoom or Google Meet these days, but she attended the interview anyway.

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The next day, someone from an official-looking email address contacted her with an offer for the job. She received an offer letter that looked totally legitimate, so she filled out the paperwork and sent it back. Then the alleged Delish representative made an odd request. She told Lafferty that the company needed to send her a special laptop preloaded with software. That laptop was being sent from a third-party vendor, so they’d need to invoice her for $2,000 before Lafferty could start working. The representative claimed that Delish would send her the money to cover the bill.

By now, Lafferty was sure something was wrong. She went on the Delish website and verified that the name and photo of the person she’d spoken with matched their employee roster. She reached out through Instagram to the woman directly, who apparently reported it to her superiors. Delish—the real Delish—got in touch with Lafferty and explained that this was a known scam.

The scammers had been thorough. They’d spoofed email addresses and stolen the names and photos of real employees. Delish claimed that the scam had been reported to Upwork, but the freelance clearinghouse had failed to stamp it out. The burden of due diligence falls on the jobseeker to separate scams from legitimate opportunities.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed by Fake Jobs

So what did Lafferty do wrong? First, she accepted communication from the scammers outside Upwork’s official channels. Because she Skyped and then emailed with the scammers, rather than communicating on Upwork, she lost the protections offered by the freelance site. Next, she filled out new hire paperwork even though she had misgivings. Such paperwork usually includes details like your name, address, and Social Security number. All of that information can be used to steal an identity.

If it sounds too good to be true, then it almost certainly is. Despite multiple red flags along the way, the opportunity was too tempting for Lafferty to let it go. If she’d been just a little more determined or a little less inclined to listen to her instincts, she might have paid them the $2,000 for the laptop. Likely, the scammers would have sent her to a third-party site where she would have had to enter her credit card information. The scammers would almost certainly have used that information to empty her bank accounts, and it’s possible that they might have opened new credit cards in her name using her stolen identity, too, potentially wrecking her credit.

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Work-from-home job scams are more common than ever right now. They prey on people’s eagerness to find a flexible job that pays well and allows them to have a better work-life balance. If you see an ad for a job anywhere other than a company’s official website, be very cautious. Be especially wary of opportunities that pop up on social media or sites like Craigslist. And even if you think the site where you found the job is safe, if that job seems too good to be true, don’t bother trying to follow up on the opportunity. Opening a line of communication with scammers gives them an “in” to get to you.

According to Novo Resume’s Career Blog, work-from-home job scams tend to fall into a few common categories:

  • Data entry
  • Reshipping or reselling merchandise
  • Stuffing envelopes (this one has been around for decades)
  • Assembling products
  • Processing rebates

As we saw from Ms. Lafferty’s story, proofreading is another fairly common scam. Any “job” that can be done from home without a specialized degree or training is fair game for these savvy scammers. They may ask you to pay for a training course or equipment. Some ask you to pay for a background check—which will give them access to all of your personal information and your credit card or bank account number. Many of us are used to handing over personal details, such as our date of birth, driver’s license, or Social Security number, during the hiring process that we don’t think twice about it.

Guard your personal information like the treasure that it is. Any job that seems too good to be true should be avoided. Be especially cautious when a “recruiter” reaches out to you, but keep your guard up at all times when searching for work. There are opportunities out there, but there are also a lot of scams.

How the Tinder Swindler Stole Millions

You’ve heard the story of the Tinder Swindler, right? Here’s the short version. A man claiming to be Simon Leviev, the son of diamond magnate Lev Leviev, met women online and wooed them with apparent displays of wealth. He flew on private jets and stayed at luxury hotels, and he showed the women he preyed upon the time of their lives—right up until he had them hooked.

His lifestyle was funded by his previous victims, essentially running a one-man pyramid scheme to keep up appearances while he swept the next woman off her feet. He’d spend most of the “relationship” away, claiming that he needed to travel for work, but when they were together, his victim would feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

Once Leviev decided the time was right, he’d tell his victim that he was in danger. After all, the son of one of the world’s richest men could be a target, right? He would send the women videos of his injured bodyguard and claim to be in danger of his life. Leviev begged them to save him by sending money so he could escape. The women never guessed that it was a scam until they’d emptied their bank accounts and maxed out their credit. After Leviev got everything he could from them, he disappeared.

Leviev—who actually did change his name as part of his long-running scam—was finally caught in 2019. However, the damage he did may never fully heal. His victims were left financially ruined and emotionally wrecked. Romance scams like his aren’t usually quite as elaborate or high-profile, but unfortunately, they happen all the time.

Romance Scams on the Rise

As people feel more isolated, they naturally reach out for connection in any way they can. For many, that means using dating apps like Tinder to find love. Scammers are aware of this trend, and they’re working overtime to take advantage of lonely people.

Last year, the FTC reported that “losses hit a record $547 million for the year. That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a nearly 80% increase compared to 2020. The median individual reported loss in 2021 was $2,400.”

How can you tell that your new online match is a scammer? It can be very difficult to know for sure. The successful fraudsters aren’t obvious. They steal the information and photos from other profiles to make themselves look legitimate. However, there are a few red flags to watch out for as you talk to a potential match.

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First, be wary of anyone with an obvious sob story. While it’s true that real people go through traumatic events every day, you might want to pump the breaks when you match with someone with a tragic-yet-noble backstory. A good-looking army veteran who is a widower with a young child makes for a great hero in a romance novel. But in real life, he’s likely a scammer. Think that’s a weirdly specific example? That’s because Col. Daniel Blackmon’s photos and name were stolen and used in dozens of scams with variations of the same story. The real Col. Blackmon is happily married and living in Oklahoma. The fake Blackmon, however, was always deployed overseas and needed his victim’s financial help for an emergency.

Romance scammers always have a good reason why they can’t meet you in person. Often, they claim to live overseas or be deployed by the military. Sometimes, they claim to be long-haul truckers or working on oil rigs. No matter the excuse, these scammers won’t be able to go on a date. But that doesn’t matter because they’ve never felt a connection like this before!

Yeah, that’s the second red flag of a romance scammer. They use what’s called “love bombing” to overwhelm their victims. The scammers move way too fast, professing their love and making grand statements about the future that they want to share with their victims. The compliments and romantic gestures pile up fast, and under that avalanche of affection, it’s all too easy for even the smartest person to get swept away.

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Once the victim is hooked, the scammer moves on to the next phase. They’ll either ask for money to come to visit or claim that they have an emergency only you can help them fix. The emergency could be anything from a sick child to a broken car or even false imprisonment. The excuse doesn’t really matter. The scammer will always promise to pay the money back. They may ask for a hard-to-track form of payment, such as a money order, which will make it almost impossible for you to get the money back once you realize what happened.

Be very cautious when looking for love online. Even legitimate sites and apps are filled with scammers, and some of those scammers are very good at what they do. If you receive a message out of the blue on social media from someone who seems like the perfect match, watch out! Chances are good that they’re targeting you because they’ve already studied your Facebook or Instagram profile. As with job opportunities, any potential romantic match that seems too good to be true probably is.

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