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Posted by: Myrick CPA Posted on: Feb 23 2023 Posted in: tax scams, church fraud, scams and fraud

How to Prevent Online Scams - and What to Do if Targeted

Flimflam, scam, con, shakedown, racket . . . to borrow Shakespeare's phrase, "A fraud by any other name would be as deceitful." Scams have been perpetrated on individuals and companies for at least 2,500 years, and the tools used to carry out the crimes are ever-changing. An expansive list of possible scam scenarios will not likely cover all possibilities. Learning to beware of the signs of potential fraud and how to respond is a more effective method to protect yourself from becoming the victim of an online scam. Here a few hints on how to prevent online scams - and what to do if you’ve been targeted.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Recent years have seen a marked uptick in scams perpetrated through emails, SMS, or text messages. Some of the more common are called phishing or SMiShing, so named because the scammers are "fishing" for information from their targets. For example, a spam email may appear to be from the IRS, a bank, or a well-known company such as Amazon or Walmart. However, there are several indicators that an email is not from the claimed source:

  • The sending email does not match the web address you normally use; they often have a string of senseless numbers and letters.

  • Emails or texts that invoke a response of panic or fear. Headlines that claim an account has been hacked or compromised are often an attempt to have the target click a link to a fraudulent website or call a fraudulent phone number.

  • Emails, texts, or phone calls that include immediate, online payment demands should be handled with the utmost care. Don't reply or give information.

  • Emails from the IRS or other government entities should raise red flags immediately. The IRS does not contact taxpayers via email or text. If you receive electronic communications from someone claiming to be with the IRS, do not open them and delete the message immediately.

  • A currently trending scam is an email or text message with a subject line that includes a "confirmation" instruction. If you know for sure that you did not order something, simply delete the message without opening it. If you open it, there may be a cautionary note for you to contact the company (phone or link) if you did NOT place the order; otherwise, you will be charged a stated amount. You will not be charged. Do not fall for this. Delete.

  • Suddenly being contacted by someone "out of the blue" - whether it’s someone you know or an individual you don’t know. Messages from someone you haven't spoken to in years, or those from complete strangers, especially if they ask highly personal or peculiar questions, should raise suspicions about their origin.

  • Poorly written communication, including poor grammar or misspelled words, should raise concern. Of course, everyone misspells words that spell checkers will normally catch. Still, when combined with awkward or incorrect grammatical errors, they could mean the email was created by AI (artificial intelligence) or a foreign entity unfamiliar with English. 

A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

Sir Francis Bacon wrote, "Knowledge itself is power." This certainly holds true regarding potential online scams. Simply being aware of the potential of scammers is a good start to avoid becoming a target. There are other useful ways to prevent becoming the target of an online scam:

  • Do not click any links or open attachments in suspicious emails. Even if they state that you "must" click in order to avoid severe consequences with an existing account. Be sure to open a new browser page and navigate to the authentic website directly before interacting with the organization.

  • Consider sending any questionable emails to The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an organization committed to reducing cybercrime.

  • Rely on trusted resources, such as Myrick CPA, for information on potential areas of concern. From the time of the Great Depression, accountants have kept on top of technological advances and different ways in which fraud may be perpetrated.

Skepticism is often viewed as a negative personality trait, but questioning and doubt are useful for protecting one's physical, intellectual, and financial assets. When you have concerns regarding potential online scams, contact Myrick CPA to schedule an appointment to discuss your concerns and minimize your exposure to online scams.