More Than 40% of Consumers Don't Recognize Red Flags of a Scam

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If you haven't received an email by now offering you a huge sum of money in exchange for a small initial deposit or fee, you should feel a little left out.

According to "Financial Fraud and Fraud Susceptibility in the United States," a new report from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 67 percent of consumers have received this type of email. Another 36 percent have received a letter that says they've won a lottery in a country they've never visited.

The survey found that all told, more than 8 in 10 consumers have been asked to participate in a potentially fraudulent offer.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%While most people who are targeted by a scam aren't drawn in, 11 percent of those surveyed had lost a significant amount of money due to a fraudulent offer. But oddly, when asked if they had been a victim of fraud, only 4 percent admitted that they had.

Americans age 65 and older are not only more likely to be targeted by scammers, according to the FINRA research, but they're more likely to lose money if they are targeted -- 34 percent more likely than respondents in their 40s.

Red Flags Aren't Obvious to Everyone

It's frightening how frequently we miss the signs that someone's out to scam us.

FINRA found that more than 40 percent of the people surveyed failed to recognize some of the signs of a fraudulent offer, including some classic red flags, such as offers that tout:
  • A 110 percent annual return on an investment
  • A fully guaranteed investment
  • A promise of a daily rate of return of over 2 percent
In addition to the indications above such as unrealistic promises of a high return without risk, the Better Business Bureau says some of the most common red flags for a scam that consumers ignore include:
  • Your gut instinct tells you something is off. If something doesn't sound right or feel right, don't brush your instinct aside. At the very least, do some investigating.
  • High-pressure tactics. If you're told something is only available for a limited time or you're pushed into making an impulse decision, this often indicates a scam.
  • You're asked to use a money transfer. Money transfers can't be traced, so chances are higher that if you're asked to send money that way, you're being scammed.
  • You're asked for personal information. Scammers commonly ask for things like your address, phone number, banking information, and birth date to gather information about you that can be used for identity theft or to charge a credit card. They can use a variety of ways to reach you if they have some information and can ask you to log in or give them a password via email or phone that can seem legitimate.
  • Vague details. Most scammers attempt to give out as little information about themselves or the specifics of a deal or an investment so that there's less likelihood they can be caught.
  • No contact information. If you can't call back or reach the person who's contacted you, that's a good indication they're not legitimate.

While con artists constantly come up with new variations on old themes to steal your money, staying vigilant and watching out for these warning signs can help protect your bank account from their scams.

Michele Lerner is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.

The 'Scammiest' Words on the Internet
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More Than 40% of Consumers Don't Recognize Red Flags of a Scam

Remember when hearing the word "congratulations" used to mean that something good was about to happen to you? Well, the Internet ruined that for all of us. Most of us have seen (and perhaps heard) a garish banner ad declaring "congratulations, you won!" And most of us have figured out by now that we didn't win anything.

Here's the thing: There's no such thing as a free lunch on the Internet. That Web site telling you that you can get a free iPad is probably just going to steal your information. And whatever the banner ad says, you're not actually the 1 millionth visitor to the site, and you're not actually entitled to riches and free merchandise.

Acai berry has been popping up in everything from energy drinks to colon cleansers lately. And if you're like us, it's also been popping up in your inbox and Web searches, too.

It's marketed as an all-natural miracle drug capable of promoting weight loss, virility and countless other health benefits, and these wild claims have started to catch the attention of government regulators. The Federal Trade Commission began cracking down on companies promoting the stuff back in 2010, shutting down a number of firms who made false health claims or otherwise tried to scam consumers into buying the supplement. And we've seen scammy-looking sites try to cash in on the controversy by offering the "truth" about acai berry.

Context is everything. The word "home" is innocuous on its own, but if it arrives in the phrase "work from home," then it should set off all sorts of internal alarm bells.

Don't get us wrong: There are definitely some legitimate work-from-home jobs out there. But much like miracle weight-loss supplements, such jobs are seen as a holy grail for people who don't want to get off the couch to accomplish their goals. As such, there are plenty of disreputable Web sites offering to pay you thousands per month but actually offering nothing but trouble.

To avoid these scam, here are some tips on how to spot a fake job.

Here's a tip: If a Web site takes pains to assure you its offer is "risk-free," it almost certainly carries plenty of risk. In fact, just last year the FTC cracked down on an international scheme that offered "risk-free" trials of everything from weight-loss pills to penny auctions and charged the customers with exorbitant monthly charges.

"Although the defendants offered a money-back guarantee, consumers were often unsuccessful in canceling the charges or obtaining refunds, and the process involved time-consuming phone calls and other steps that made the deals far from risk-free," the FTC explained in a statement.

There are certainly legitimate businesses out there that use this phrase, but in general it's a case of "methinks the scammer doth protest too much." If a guy ran up to you and the first words out of his mouth were "Don't worry, I'm not going to stab you!" you would probably turn and run away. Do the same for "risk-free" offers.

If you see the word "service" along with "bill" and "charged," there's a good chance you've stumbled upon some kind of mobile phone scam, say the experts at PC Tools. These words and phrases will usually pop up even when you're signing up for a legitimate phone service, but if you see the fine print on a suspicious-looking Web site start to talk about subscribing you to a service and billing you, you can be sure it won't be long before they're asking for your credit card number.

The acai berry scammers don't have a monopoly on weight-loss scams. Getting thin quick is just as popular as getting rich quick, and various sites offer miraculous diet solutions that will probably just sign you up for a free trial that isn't all that free (and which won't make you any thinner). You might see such sites also feature another buzzword identified by PC Tools: "mango," as in African mango, another supposed natural solution to weight loss.

The truth about weight-loss pills? The Food and Drug Administration is constantly reviewing such supplements made by legitimate pharmaceutical companies, and they tend to find that the side effects far outweigh any benefits. In other words, a miracle diet drug simply doesn't exist, and any Web site that claims it does is probably out to scam you. If you want to lose weight, hit the gym and start eating right.

Once again, context is everything. Lots of Web sites, including this one, talk about stocks and provide investment advice. But when an odd email or site starts talking about can't-miss investment opportunities, you may want to back away slowly.

We know: Everyone wishes they were the guy who caught early wind of Apple's revival or bought a bunch of shares of IBM decades ago. And it's that desire to get in early on a stock no one else knows about that allows scammers to entice gullible investors on the lookout for a hot tip.

Our hot tip? You could wind up relieved of a good chunk of change or wake up to find you were a patsy in a pump-and-dump scheme. The Securities and Exchange Commission recommends avoiding any stocks that aren't traded on a major exchange such as the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange, steering clear of unregulated "over the counter" exchanges. The SEC's best advice: "When you see an offer on the Internet, assume it is a scam until you can prove through your own research that it is legitimate."

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