What are scammers up to in the Digital Age?
In pretty much any industry, scam artists discover some clever methods to take advantage of people and make money quickly. And the advent of the Digital Age only made this more common. With the internet, charismatic charmers no longer have to get you into a room to hear all the benefits of a timeshare (You own, not rent it!). There’s hardly a person alive who hasn’t personally gotten an email from a Nigerian prince or been a winner of a foreign lottery. And while most people laugh at the obvious nature of those types of scams, scammers have gotten more clever over the years. They can create legitimate looking websites and often use proper spelling and grammar. So how can you spot them quickly?
Three telltale signs of an online scammer
While some scammers have become more clever, they always have some kind of trick to try and get your business or to get you to divulge personal information. Three of the most common signs of a scammer are if it comes from an email you didn’t sign up for, if the business doesn’t have a local physical location, and/or they’re offering expensive, premium services at an incredibly low price.
1. You didn’t sign up for emails
While not always the sign of a scam, you should at least be wary when you get unsolicited emails. You might be wondering how these people get your email address in the first place, sometimes even addressing you by name. There a few ways this can happen. One way is through the illegal purchasing or leaking of account databases. You can check if your email has been compromised in this method through have i been pwned?, an online database checking tool.
Another way is by using faulty subscribe/unsubscribe buttons, or by companies using your information for internal marketing. A common way this happens is by not seeing/unchecking the “Send me emails” box when signing up for a new online account. Many of these have to be unsubscribed from manually, but do your research before clicking that button–especially if it’s in your spam folder–because often you’ll be prompted to type in your email on the next page, which could potentially tell a scammer that the email account is actively used. Only unsubscribe in this method if it’s from a service you recognize and may have signed up for. Otherwise, you can create custom spam filters to stop individual mailers or email extensions.
Beware of “Domain Expiration” emails!
A new scam catching business owners off guard is a seemingly innocuous email claiming that the domain is about to expire and could be sold to someone else. This likely isn’t true! While domain registrars do send these emails, they’ll be from the company you’re registered with. If you’re unsure and you have an SEO service, contact them to confirm. Most SEO companies take care of this hassle for you, so you don’t have to worry about it.
2. The business isn’t actually local
With the Fred update that targeted low-value content and emphasized proximity to the user, there was a sudden uprising of scam businesses. Fortunately, Google cracked down on most of these, but some of the better-crafted ones slipped through the cracks. A common sign of a scam business on Google Maps is that the business name is simply the keyword and location you typed in. For example, a business called “Locksmith Portland” could show up first on the maps, and usually won’t have a website listing in the profile, just a phone number.
So what happens when you call this number? Continuing with the locksmith example, sometimes, it will take you to a distant call center where they’ll give you a quote over the phone. They will then send someone over to your location, who will tell you that the job is more complicated than they expected and spout some technical jargon. They use a classic bait-and-switch tactic and hope that since they’re already there, you’ll simply pay the increased rate, which is sometimes five or even ten times the initial quote. To their credit, some of these scammers do what they were asked to do; though in the case of locksmiths sometimes that simply means destroying the lock.
3. They offer expensive services at an incredible value
When an offer is too good to be true, it usually is. And online goods and services are no exceptions. From fake Amazon accounts with incredible deals to carpet cleaning scams, these con artists are everywhere. There’s a reason that many companies advertise the best value instead of the lowest price, because the two are very different things. But sometimes, a company really does have a special offer, and you could be missing out on an amazing opportunity. How can you be sure?
The first place you should check is customer reviews. If the company has a plethora of bad reviews, you should avoid using them no matter what “deal” they offer, as it’s typically some sort of con or scam. Like the scam locksmith, they want to get into your home, and some even go as far as to perform the service without your approval and then try to charge you after it’s done. Don’t sign anything until everything lines up as expected!
What can I do if I find a scam?
If you find a business lying or taking advantage of people, it’s time to bring down the Scam Hammer! There a few things you can do if you catch a scammer. The first thing you can do is report the business to Google. This can be done through a legal violation report. If it’s a name violation (Like “Locksmith Portland” as the business name), follow this guide. It explains that you can find the business through a search in Google Maps, click the listing and then “Suggest an edit”, and from there, mark that it’s permanently closed or report it as spam. You also have the option to File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
As far as internet scams ago, SEO scams in particular have been gaining traction in recent years. They claim to offer comprehensive SEO services, but do so in unsolicited emails with questionable details. Learn more about how to avoid fraudulent schemes with our follow up article Bring Down the Scam Hammer – SEO Scams (Part 2).