High Five! Top Tips to Help Others Avoid Scams

Five things you can do to help friends and relatives avoid scams or take prompt action if they’re conned: Internet Scambusters #353

You may already be scam-smart yourself but what can you do to enable other people to avoid scams?

You can easily help them wise up to the risks and take action both to avoid scammers and to act quickly if they fall victim.

In this issue, we offer simple tips for them on avoiding scams or fessing up if they get conned.

Time to get going…


High Five! Top Tips to Help Others Avoid Scams


When it comes to identifying the best ways to avoid scams, you have to start with the biggest reason people get scammed in the first place: Ignorance is the number one culprit; trusting others comes a close second.

That’s not you, right? But what about those who are near and dear to you? Are they as smart as you when it comes to avoiding scams?

If not, there are a few simple things you can do to help friends, relatives and colleagues deal with the risks, whether that means avoiding scams or knowing what to do if they become victims.

So, for this issue, we’ve compiled five actions you can take that will show them either how to avoid scams or increase the possibility of them getting their money back if they don’t.

  1. When people pretend they’re youFriends and relatives lower their guard when they think they’re dealing with you — whether it’s an email message or greeting bearing your name, or a late night phone call from someone claiming to be you and in trouble.These are common scam ruses. The phony email messages normally contain a link or an attachment that puts a virus on their PC. The late-night caller, who claims to be a grandchild, nephew or niece, wants them to wire money supposedly to get them out of jail or help with some other emergency.

    A similar SOS plea may come in an email message to a member of your church or someone you work with.

    Here are some actions you can take to help others avoid scams like these:

    • When you send a message to someone who might not be expecting it, include some information that others won’t know or, if it’s someone you regularly contact, a previously agreed password that enables them to verify it’s from you.Tell them now that is what you’ll do.
    • If you’re sending an eCard, send a separate message to the recipient letting them know.
    • Warn older members of your family about the emergency phone call scam, telling them to ask questions that will verify who the caller is (e.g., ask their birthdate) or check out the claim with other family members.
    • Even then, tell them never to wire cash — under any circumstances. Genuine law enforcement officials never ask for money this way.
  2. Avoiding scams with Internet security softwareEveryone should have it but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t have Internet security software installed on their PCs. If they did, virus writers might almost be out of a job!These programs are the number one defense against hacking and malware. Bluntly, users should not be online if they don’t have protection. So how can you make sure they’re covered?

    The best thing you can do to help others avoid scams via malware is to ask which applications they use, as though you assume they do. You can do this quite informally without appearing to be nosy — it’s a fair conversation subject anyway.

    Then you can get blunter if they tell you they don’t use/need this protection. After all, you are likely doing them a favor. Even if they don’t use the Internet, their computers could still be at risk from malware that arrives by disk or USB drive.

    Similarly, if they think just having an anti-virus program is enough, tell them to think again. A full Internet security suite, with anti-spyware and a firewall, is what they need.

    Remember, too, to warn them — and check again in the future — to keep the program up to date. Last year’s (or even last month’s) program, if it hasn’t been updated, is about as useful as last year’s TV guide.

    Also, remember that although PCs are the most susceptible to hack attacks and viruses, crooks also want to get into Macs and mobile devices, so don’t let your acquaintances claim they’re avoiding scams just because they use these different devices.

    They may think they’re safe, but “safe” in this case, is a relative word.

  3. Taking care of kids and older folkTwo groups are particularly vulnerable to scams, both online and in the real world — kids and seniors.OK, that’s a generalization but children and teens’ lack of worldly experience often make them too trusting, while older folk are more easily confused and bamboozled into acting without thinking things through clearly.

    Bluntly, it’s just more difficult for many of them to avoid scams.

    You can read more about the risks they face here.

    Tips to Keep Your Teens (and Yourself) Safe on MySpace and Other Social Networking Sites

    Kids’ Scams: The Good, the Bad and the In-Between

    Scams Against Seniors: Don’t Get Fleeced Out Of Your Golden Years

    Meantime, a few simple rules will help them sidestep most tricks:

    • Alert them to the whole subject of scams; they may not even suspect they exist! (See Item #4 below.)
    • Advise (or instruct, if it’s appropriate) them not to spend or invest money or disclose personal information without checking first with you.
    • Encourage skepticism as the first reaction to anything that appears too good to be true, even if it comes from a friend.
    • With children:

      – Consider using software that controls website access and downloads.
      – Discourage them from posting personal photos and info on websites.
      – Discuss the risks of chat rooms.
      – Use the links above to alert them to some of the scams.

  4. Spread the wordTelling other people about scam stories you heard or saw is one of the quickest and surest ways of reducing the chances of them getting caught. Don’t hesitate to do this.Naturally, a great starting point to helping avoid scams is to let them know about Scambusters.org — and to suggest they subscribe to our free weekly newsletter as well. (They can do it from any page on our protecting yourself from scams website.)

    There are plenty of good books too on how to avoid scams. If you don’t want to offend someone you feel is particularly vulnerable, buy the book for yourself and then pass it to them, saying you’re done with it.

    Local newspapers and TV are good sources of information about scams in your town or neighborhood.

    Online, in addition to Scambusters, we recommend you keep tabs on the Federal Trade Commission website and other official anti-fraud sites.

    But also be careful. There are lots of hoax scam and virus warnings out there on the Internet. If you receive one, check it out online by doing a search using the subject name. Only when you’re satisfied it’s genuine should you pass it on. And don’t pass on any email that tells you to pass it on to everyone you know. 😉

  5. Keep it openSecurity and law enforcement experts tell us that one of the most serious issues with scam victims is… that they keep their mouths shut.Embarrassment about how they’ve failed to avoid scams makes them reluctant to fess up. And that usually means that the chances of the culprits getting caught, and the victims getting their money back, are pretty near zero.

    In the crime world, trails go cold pretty fast.

    What’s more, by keeping quiet about their own loss, they allow the crooks to carry on scamming, perhaps even targeting the victim’s other friends and relatives.

    Limit the risk of this happening by letting those you care about know that even the brainiest, the most powerful and the wealthiest among our citizens fall for scams — as the news columns bear testimony every week.

    (That’s why we’re so public about whenever we get scammed. Yes, it’s very, very rare, but it has happened. And we tell people so they’ll feel less embarrassed if they get scammed.)

    Let them know that even if they’re just a tiny bit suspicious that they’ve been scammed, they should act quickly — telling you and, if appropriate, law enforcement and reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission.

    The sooner they do, the better their chances of the scammers getting caught.

    Bottom line: It’s a naturally good thing to help others beat the crooks. It’s something you can do easily, at no cost to yourself.

    But don’t forget this golden rule for your own security: To avoid scams — always practice what you preach! 🙂

That’s a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!