Self Improvement — 14 March 2011
How to avoid falling prey to scammers

Scams and scammers have plagued society from its inception. Every era creates its brand of common schemes by fraudulent, conscienceless manipulators who prey on innocent, often kind and vulnerable souls. What makes some people more susceptible than others to the ruses of ill-intentioned con artists?

Common scams include: unfulfilled merchandise and services promises, business fraud, employment offers, investment cons, pyramid schemes, lottery and other “winnings,” solicitations for helping victims of disasters or love and marriage cons.

The common aspects of these scams include:
• Dishonest, often charming scammers promising a product, service or benefit.
• Needy, trusting, flattered, compassionate or naïve victims.
• Demands for money in advance with promises of benefits or winnings to follow.

The delivery of these scams had its genesis with travelling strangers coming to small towns with empty promises. The art of scamming has since evolved into phishing for victims by mail, phone calls, media advertisements, business connections and personal pyramid schemes to current use of Internet and social media data in recruiting victims.

Scammers prey upon vulnerable groups or individuals. They appeal to greed, the need for relief of pain, economic enhancement, kindness and generosity toward victims of floods, earthquakes or war, or helping a friend in need.

Today, due to hard economic times, job seekers have become a popular group for various scams. Brian Hale, an FBI spokesman confirmed in 2008 an increase in reports of fraud involving work-at-home scams. One Web-related scheme promised large paychecks for a few hours per week of working from home for a sign-in fee.

Other scammers send checks to unemployed workers, asking them to cash them and send a portion back to foreign countries to check if the Money Gram system works properly. The received check bounces, while the victim’s cash is long gone.

Another common scam raids a friend’s email list and sends you a “Help Request,” seemingly from your friend, who is in need of money after losing a wallet or being robbed while travelling abroad.

Who is most susceptible to these cons? 1. People in acute need of money, a job or a life-saving treatment. 2. Compassionate, caring and gullible individuals. 3. Intense seekers of a love connection.

Psychologically, the need to attain a special status of “a winner,” “an understood, loved and cared about person,” or “a uniquely privileged investor with Bernie Madoff,” clouds one’s sensibilities of caution and self-preservation.

To avoid becoming a victim of a scam:

• Use your assessing mind to safeguard against being conned by unreasonable, illogical or suspicious offers from strangers.
• Remember, if it is seems too good to be true – you already know it is not true.
• Send contributions only to known organizations that help the needy.
• Abstain from sending any money in advance for any transaction that you did not initiate.
• Increase privacy settings in social network sites.
• Respond only to the love promises/requests from an individual whom you have met in person.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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