Scam Artists Are Everywhere
The federal government received almost 2.7 million complaints in a one-year period from consumers who were victimized through fraud, deceit and other tactics associated with a scam artist. The toll of all of the reported scams, confidence games and tricks are estimated to cost their victims almost $1 billion a year. The best way to protect yourself and your family from being victimized by telephone, internet or in-person scams and fraudulent schemes is to know how these schemes work and learn how to recognize and avoid them.
What is a Scam Artist?
Unlike a robber who brandishes a gun or other weapon to force you to give up your money, scam artists use their wits and an understanding of human nature to make their victims voluntarily give up their money and other valuables to them. Instead of the robber’s technique of instilling fear in a victim, a well-played scam relies upon winning the trust of victims who willingly relinquish their valuables based upon the faith they have in the scam artist.
Scam artists have a keen understanding of human nature and use it to exploit their victims. They identify a victim’s greed, vanity, desperation, innocence and other common character traits and exploit them to persuade victims to trust them or to cause a lapse in good judgment.
Scam Artist Behaviors and Confidence Tricks
The primary tools of the trade for scam artists are deception and the ability to quickly adapt their “pitch” to the response they get from the person they target. Whether the contact between a con artist and victim takes place on the street, by telephone or over the internet, winning the trust of the victim is essential.
Trust can be won through persuasion or by making the victim believe there is a common bond with the scam artist. This bond can be established by the way a con artist speaks or through the way they dress. For example, a scam artist attempting to entice a victim into investing in a phony investment scheme must talk using language someone would immediately associate with an investment adviser and dress in a way that conveys the illusion of success and wealth.
If you are uncertain about the identity or background of a person approaching or contacting you, taking the person’s word about who they are or about their credentials is a mistake. Scam artists are experts at exploiting people and catering to human weaknesses. Before handing over money or entering into an agreement with someone you do not know, a quick online search could reveal if the person claiming to be a financial wiz is actually someone with an extensive criminal record.
Common Scams and Frauds
- IRS imposters: A call from the Internal Revenue Service threatening to have you arrested because of an unpaid tax debt is certainly going to get your attention. Many of these calls use a recording to make the threat and give you a number to call to resolve the matter. Victims who call the imposter are told they must pay a certain amount by pre-paid gift cards or another untraceable payment method to avoid being arrested. The website of the real IRS cautions people not to fall for this scam by letting them know that IRS collection efforts always involve a letter from the agency and not a threatening telephone call.
- Ponzi or pyramid schemes: This form of scam is named after an infamous scam artist, Charles Ponzi, who came up with it at the end of World War I. The scam artist entices victims to invest money with promises of too-good-to-be-true returns on investment except there is no investment. The scam artist simply takes money from new investors and uses some of it to pay dividends or interest to earlier investors in order to keep the scheme running while pocketing the rest. Eventually, as the pool of potential investors dwindles and money stops flowing into the “investment,” the scheme collapses.
- Foreclosure scams: Homeowners who have fallen on hard times and cannot make their mortgage payments frequently become the target of scam artists offering to help them. Homeowners are asked to pay a fee in exchange for help negotiating with the lender or other types of assistance that are never actually given. Sometimes, the homeowner is enticed to sign over the house to the scam artist who promises to take over the debt. What usually happens is the house is rented to unsuspecting tenants by the scam artist who pockets the money until the bank eventually takes the house in a foreclosure.
The types of scams and fraudulent schemes are limited only by the limits of the imagination of the criminals who devise them. Some of the common scams and frauds include the following:
If you are approached by someone offering you a deal that appears too good to be true, it could be a scam. An online public records search of the individual, company or organization making the offer could alert you to possible risks.
How to Protect Yourself from Scam Artists
The best way to avoid being the victim of a scam artist is to do some research before giving or sending money or providing personal information, such as Social Security numbers. Online searches are easy to do and provide a wealth of information about the person, business or organization contacting you. Being information and cautious could keep you from becoming the victim of a scam artist.