Good advice is often contradictory. Rule number one in advice given to help avoid a fraud is “if it’s too good to be true it probably is.” This is great information but what about getting a good deal? Sometimes you really can get a good deal. The trick then is to avoid the fraud and get the good deal. This apparent contradiction and the uncertainty it creates results in people continually being “ripped off” even when they know rule number one.
Like most other things in life the truth is found in the grays and not in black and white. There are some obvious things to look for like random phone calls and emails telling you that you just won millions of dollars or your computer is malfunctioning or your bank account information needs to be updated. The way to avoid these scams is to first be suspicious and then be willing to verify the claims being made. For example, you get a call from someone who says they’re with your bank and there is some sort of problem. Get the person’s information and tell them you will hang up and verify matters by phoning the bank yourself. Chances are the fraud will die a quick death right there.
The black and white advice is to not give your Social Insurance Number to anyone that you don’t work for, don’t give your credit card number to anyone who contacts you “out of the blue” and don’t divulge personal information to anyone over the phone or internet. This advice is easy to give but in reality, sometimes you aren’t sure what to do. In other words, your world is gray.
One of the fraud artist’s talents is to convince you to make a move when you aren’t sure. That is why they are described as having an “art.” It is often a subjective, psychological and instinctive game they play with you. This is evident when a victim later admits they had misgivings very early on in their interaction with the “artist” but went through with it anyway. Right now, while you are reading this you can put this information into your brain and perhaps avoid a fraud in the future. Instead of learning from your own mistake, which is often very costly, learn from someone else’s. Rule number one therefore (in the gray world) is that if you think you may be getting scammed; put the brakes on. Say, “Hold on, I feel uncomfortable with where this is going.” Start asking questions and demand some verification or go get it yourself. Maybe we are too polite, or maybe we are too trusting. Maybe we are subject to pressure and feel we have to do something right now. The truth is that you can be polite and stand firm at the same time, and that ultimately, very little in life has to be decided upon in the here-and-now-moment. If a “great” deal comes with conditions that “you must act now”, be suspicious. It is often the hallmark of someone trying to not have you step back, think about it and avoid a mistake. Listen to and act upon your instinct and take some time.
A second tool that is very useful when you aren’t sure is also used in game-shows. It’s called “Ask a Friend”. If you have misgivings and aren’t sure, talk to someone. It could be a friend, a co-worker or family member. Pick someone who isn’t invested in the deal. They will often have a fresh and untainted perspective and can quickly notice the “spell” that you are under. They haven’t been subjected to the talents of the fraud artist and can see things much more clearly than you. Once you get that sober, subjective advice from your friend not to do it, remember that it will feel even worse when you get ripped off and that friend can smugly remind you that they “told you so.” And we all have a friend or family member that will be smug proportionate to the loss you suffer.
Online auction and classified sites, money transfer services, insurance and other government websites have plenty of advice that you can easily access. Protect yourself by doing some research. It’s better than losing money because once that money is gone, it’s probably gone forever. The advice that isn’t always in these websites is to trust your instinct, take your time and talk to someone. Fraud is a growing crime because of the advances in our communication technologies and also because of the ease with which someone outside the reach of local and national law enforcement can avoid prosecution. What you are left with is the necessity to protect yourself.
Post written by Det. Sgt. Dave Kozicki from the Saskatoon Police Economic Crime Unit. He will be sitting down with the RCMP for a live Twitter fraud chat THIS Thursday, March 14, from 1-3 p.m. This week’s topic is how to avoid being the victim of an online vehicle purchase scam and is one part of the RCMP’s Fraud Awareness Month. You can follow along at @RCMPSK or @GRCSask.