Scammers have been among us since the first humans walked the Earth. The “confidence game” (or “con” as we know it today) relies on finding unprepared victims who are often in need of fast money. The scammers prey on the vulnerable, using emotional manipulation to trick the victim into acting quickly and without asking too many questions. But in the end, instead of fast money, the unfortunate victims usually wind up with less money in their pockets.
Today, cybercriminals use sophisticated digital tools to locate, recruit, and con their victims. Each one of us is at risk every time we log onto the Internet, check our email, or run a Google search. But you can take steps to protect yourself from online fraud and cybercrime. The information in this article applies to most online scams, but we will be focusing on loan scams.
How to spot a scammer
First, learn how to spot a scam. If someone contacts you with an offer to loan you money or extend some other kind of credit, don’t give them any personal information and ask lots of questions.
How were you contacted?
By phone? By email? In either case, if the person contacting you doesn’t have a phone number or email address connected to a reputable company’s website, then they are likely a scammer. Try this: call their number from someone else’s phone and see how they answer, or if they even answer at all. If they’re legit, they should respond to anyone who calls, not just the intended victim. A legitimate lender will likely offer you the ability to speak with a live company operator if they can’t answer right away.
Is it a real lender?
You should always verify that the company making the loan offer is real. For example, if the caller tells you they are calling from ABC Loan Company, go to the ABC Loan Company’s website. Find their Customer Service phone number or email and call or write to verify the caller’s identity and job title.
If you received an email solicitation, look closely at the sender’s email address. If they are legitimate, they will have an email address with the company name immediately following the “@” symbol. So for SuperMoney, all official company email addresses read: firstname.lastname@example.org. Note that the company name – supermoney – immediately follows the “@” symbol. So if the email address is “@gmail.com” or “@yahoo.com” or anything but “@company.com,” you’re probably dealing with a cybercriminal.
Here are two email address examples. One is legitimate, and one is from a scammer. Can you tell the difference?
Does it sound (and look) legit?
Look carefully at the language and syntax used in the email or on the website. Is the grammar correct? Do the fonts match? Are the images displayed sharp and clear? Or are they grainy or out of focus? Does it look professional? If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” then you’re likely looking at a scam site or email message.
Did you contact the company?
Or did they somehow find you? If you clicked a link from a Google search result, look closely at the website address (technically called a “URL”) to see if it’s from a legitimate company web address. Next, search for the company’s website and see if the address matches the address of the site you were directed to. If it doesn’t, click away, you’re likely being scammed.
If you can’t verify that the person or company you’re dealing with is a legitimate lender with a legitimate loan offer, assume you are dealing with a cybercriminal and shut it down.
Other signs a cybercriminal might be after you
There are other red flags that you should treat as evidence of a likely cybercrime too. Here are some of the most important ones for you to remember:
An unexpected call from an organization you trust
Some scammers will call or email pretending they work for an organization you know or have worked with, such as a lender, your bank, the IRS, or even the FBI. They may contact you and say there’s a problem with one of your accounts, that you are late in a payment, or that they need to verify some information. If in doubt, ask for the full name of the person calling you and their department. Then call the organization directly and confirm their identity.
Someone contacts you to say you’re in trouble or you’ve won a prize
Scammers use fear and hope to get you to act without thinking. They may claim you have a virus, owe money to the IRS, or that you are about to be deported. A favorite is to call you and say someone in your family has had an emergency. Other scammers will call with great news. Maybe you have won the lottery or have been awarded a trip to a dream destination. All you have to do is send some money or provide some personal information to claim the prize. It’s a SCAM.
You feel pressured to act NOW
Criminals don’t want you to think, so they will create a false sense of urgency. They also don’t want you to fact-check their claims, so they might tell you not to hang up or that you have minutes to act, so you can’t check out their story. In some cases, scammers will even threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your license, or deport you. It’s a SCAM.
You are being asked to pay in unconventional or very specific ways
Scammers often require their victims to pay using a specific money transfer company or by using prepaid gift cards. Are you being asked to buy gift cards from places like Walmart or Dollar General before a loan is made? Or did you get a request to send pre-paid credit cards to someone? No legitimate lender that SuperMoney is aware of would ever ask you to buy gift cards as a requirement for a loan. Don’t do it. It’s a SCAM.
The “lender” needs to make a “test deposit”
Have you been told that you need to give up your bank account information so a “test deposit” can be made before the lender can make you the loan? That’s almost always a sure sign of fraud. Run away; it’s a SCAM.
Has someone told you that they will pay you money to loan you money? Some cyber criminals operate a scam where they say they will deposit a large sum of money in your bank account – sometimes $1,000 or more – which you will then send back to them before they deposit or loan you a much larger sum – like $10,000. Stop right there. It’s a SCAM.
What can you do to stop a scam?
Once you’ve spotted a potential scam, you need to take quick action. But what should you do – or not do – next?
- Don’t give the scammer any personal information. For example, don’t offer any bank account, address, phone, credit card, or other sensitive information over the phone or email to anyone who might be a cybercriminal. And don’t click any links on their website, email, or text messages.
- Block the scammer on your phone and flag their email so they can’t continue to harass you.
- Notify your bank if you’ve given the scammer any account or other sensitive personal information, including your social security number.
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit bureaus by contacting the three credit reporting companies.
- If the scammer stole money from you, contact your local police department.
- Report the cyber criminal’s fraud to:
Another source of important information is the Federal Trade Commission – an official agency of the United States Government – which tracks scams happening around the country in real-time. You can check with the FTC to see what kinds of scams are circulating in your local area anytime here.
SuperMoney: what we do (and things we will never do)
Finally, a word about SuperMoney: we’re a leading, no-cost digital comparison and education site that helps consumers make better financial decisions. For almost a decade now, SuperMoney’s financial services marketplace, which spans more than 50 vertical consumer markets, has deployed features like community-based reviews and product ratings from real users, empowering consumers to evaluate and select the best financial products to fit their needs. And we’re committed to consumer education too with over 2,000 independently authored, easy-to-understand articles covering every aspect of consumer finance, all of which are available to anyone free of charge.
SuperMoney will never contact you by phone, email, text, or otherwise to offer you a loan. While you can research and compare loan offers, as well as a host of other consumer financial products and services here on our site, we are not a lender.
If someone does contact you claiming to be from SuperMoney, call us at 1-888-524-5175 or reach out via email at email@example.com to verify their identity before you take any further action.
Please check back here at www.supermoney.com often. SuperMoney takes your financial well-being seriously. And we’re here to keep you up-to-date with the latest intelligence about financial fraud, so you can super power your defenses against cybercrime.
And remember that old adage as it applies to your life and the world of consumer financial services: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
- Today, cybercriminals use sophisticated digital tools to locate, recruit, and con their victims.
- You can take steps to protect yourself from online fraud and cybercrime.
- Confirm you are dealing with a real company. Some scammers pretend to call on behalf of an organization you trust.
- SuperMoney will never contact you by phone, email, text, or otherwise to offer you a loan.
- If someone does contact you claiming to be from SuperMoney, call us or email us to verify their identity.
- Super power your defenses against cybercrime by following the advice in this article.
Steven Blake is general counsel at SuperMoney. He helps innovative companies and their leaders manage the difficult intersection of business, law, and public policy with a focus on creative solutions, integrity, and results. He has a rare combination of leadership success at both startups and billion-dollar multinationals and a passion for empowering consumers and protecting their interests.