Wow, I dodged a bullet. I got a call from Microsoft Technical Support the other day advising me that my computer had some serious errors. Whew, I'm so glad they called as I was absolutely clueless. You can imagine how eager I was to provide them remote access so that the problem could be solved. NOT! OK so I didn't fall for it but these folks continue to present their scams and the reason why is two-fold: 1) people like you and me are falling for it and 2) these folks are walking away with information, identities and potentially large sums of cash.
The part that's really worrisome is that the perpetrators are getting better and better at masking what they're up to. In the case I described you should be quite suspicious of course. After all, if they knew what was going on with your computer they'd have no reason to call you. But even these obvious scams are working. Are you sure the subtler ones aren't affecting you? Here's a few things to keep in mind.
Lunch Is Not Free
It's not fair to lump this in with scams because there are legitimate giveaways (e.g. e-books) that often provide value. However, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Whether they're offering a "FREE" cruise, a trip to Disney World or an analysis of your portfolio there's no such thing as something for nothing. As soon as you hear that word "FREE" it's time to get your awareness up. Even if it's simply avoiding the unrelenting contact that will follow.
Don't Be Guided By Fear
What's your first impression when you get an urgent message from a bank, a creditor or the like? I know I experience a flutter in the gut and instantly start assessing my situation. I thought I paid that bill; I'm sure my account is adequately funded. Surely there are times when these messages are real but do you know how to spot the fakes? There are a couple of things you should look for. Is the message addressed to you by name or is it a generic message? Does the e-mail address appear unlike communications you've received from these folks previously? Do you in fact have a relationship at all with the company that sent the message? The bottom line, if something seems out of place just pick up the phone or e-mail directly (do not reply to the one you received) and ask...
What You See May Not Be What You Get
Fake websites can be pretty tricky to identify. More often than not you end up there by clicking on a link in an e-mail. Occasionally you find yourself there because you entered an incorrect but similar URL in your browser. Moreover, these sites can look a lot like the real thing and there's a good chance you won't recognize it. Your best bet? Make sure you recognize the e-mail sender when there is a link to be followed. Better still, rather than clicking the link, enter the URL manually. And when you do type in that URL be sure you entered what you intended to enter.
If You Don't Recognize It Avoid It
E-mails from your friends, which contain links and little more are often a sign that their e-mail identity has been compromised. If you look more closely you'll see that the return address is not their own. Delete the mail, DO NOT click the link and let your friend know what's going on. In all probability everyone in their contact list has received the same message.
Scams are everywhere and they're getting more and more sophisticated. There's a lot at stake here so a healthy dose of suspicion is worth your while.