10 most common scams, and how not to get suckered into them

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Unless you’re actually friends with a Nigerian aristocrat or an antivirus software engineer, we recommend you avoid these potential leeches.
10. Ponzi schemes
Named for Charles Ponzi, who created a scheme that promised investors huge returns on investments in postal coupons, this classic scam pays “dividends” by using the funds of subsequent investors. If someone promises you unbelievably high returns on an unconventional investment, don’t fall for it.
9. Help, I’m stranded! (a.k.a. The Grandma Scam)
In one of the more despicable scams ever concocted, an elderly woman gets a phone call from a frantic young person who starts with the line: “Hi Grandma, it’s me.” The caller then launches into a sob story about being jailed in some faraway locale and needing an immediate money transfer for bail. Even young, otherwise savvy people have been suckered by a variation of this one after receiving a (hacked) email from a friend’s account, pleading for assistance after running out of money or getting robbed on holiday.
8. Phishing, vishing
and smishing
Phishing scams typically start with an annoying pop-up trying to trick you into divulging personal data. Usually it’s in the guise of a bank or credit union requesting that you “update” your account information, or else face harsh penalties. Remember: real banks don’t employ pop-up windows, especially poorly spelled ones. Vishing is essentially the same thing, but the scammer calls your phone instead of springing a pop-up on your computer. In smishing scams, you get a text message demanding you call a toll-free number to address concerns about your financial accounts, and then provide personal information to confirm your identity.
7. Pump and Dump
This one of the more complicated and nefarious scams. It involves artificially jacking up the price of a cheaply purchased stock through misleading hype in order to sell it for wicked profit. The bogus hype is often perpetuated through telemarketing and phoney press releases designed to convince potential investors that they’re getting in at the ground-floor of a stock that’s about to go through the roof. Once the stock has been sufficiently pumped, it’s dumped, thereby making a tidy profit for the scammers and leaving other investors with worthless stock.
6. Antivirus software and computer “clean-up”
A pop-up message warns you that your computer is riddled with viruses, and offers a solution to “clean up” your machine. In a nasty bait-and-switch, the supposed solution is itself a nasty piece of spyware and malware that takes over your computer and snoops around in your personal information. Worse yet, you may have to buy some legitimate software to rid your computer of the impostor spyware. A good rule to live by: IGNORE ALL POP-UPS.
5. Advance fee loans
Bad credit? No credit? No problem! There are plenty of people out there willing to make your situation even worse! These supposed money lenders promise to give you cash, as long as you pay an upfront fee. You pay the fee, you wait but the loan never comes. A handy way to test the authenticity of an offer: ask the loan company to take the amount of their fee off of the total amount of the loan that was promised you. We bet they won’t.
4. Miracle weight loss, psychic counselling, crystal healing, magnetic balancing etc
Every year, consumers pour billions of dollars into fad diets, ‘miracle’ cures, psychic mumbo-jumbo and countless other empty promises offering easy solutions to difficult problems. But people just keep getting fatter. So-called psychics continually fail to predict anything meaningful or scientifically testable. Magnetic bracelets still achieve nothing apart from making those who wear them look goofy. If a new product or service has the word “miracle” associated with it, that’s probably because there’s precious little science associated with it.
3. Hot foreign women
So a Russian blonde named Olga stumbled across your profile online and she wants to get to know you better. How nice!
The only problem is that Olga is probably closer to Olaf the bald gargoyle. By the time you realise this distinction, you’ve sent money to help Olga out of debt, or even paid her supposed airfare to come visit. Avoid this scam by keeping in mind that hot foreign women probably don’t want to meet you.
2. Phoney disaster relief
Following a natural disaster or other high-profile tragedy, an email arrives in your inbox pleading for donations to a relief fund.
Since you’re a kind, compassionate person, you send some dollars and bask in altruistic self-satisfaction, blissfully unaware that your money has gone directly to a subhuman scuzzbucket capitalizing on the compassion of others.
1. The Nigerian Scam
Although there are many variations to this old gem, the basic premise is always the same: a Nigerian claiming to have access to great wealth needs a foreign bank account in which to deposit millions of dollars, and he has selected you! Forged documents are sometimes provided to give the transaction an air of legitimacy.
In order to receive a substantial cut of the money, all you have to do is pay a fee (or bribe) to keep the wheels moving. Nicknamed the 419 scam (for the section of the Nigerian criminal code that forbids it), the scam actually originated centuries ago in Europe.
Amazingly, it still fools people all the time (and, in extreme cases, victims have actually flown to Africa to complete the deal, only to be ransomed or killed).