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How to Detect Online Scams

Is it a scam?

Out of all the base human traits scam artists prey upon, greed may be the one they target most. These scams tend to follow the pattern of promising a huge payoff for a relatively small investment. It's the old "something for nothing" approach. Many scam artists use e-mail to spread the con around. This allows the con artist to send out hundreds of thousands -- or even millions -- of e-mail messages to potential victims. Even if the success rate is a fraction of that number, the payoff for the scam artist can be huge.

When you see an offer online, really take some time to think it through. A little critical thinking can often save you money and frustration. Don't rely on the links or testimonials attached to the offer itself. Search around elsewhere for independent verification that the offer is valid. Some may be genuine offers, while others may try to lure you into a pyramid scheme or pump-and-dump scam.


Some common indicators of scams include:

  • A call for urgency such as, "You must act now!"
  • A promise of huge profits in a short timeframe
  • Overuse of buzzwords and jargon
  • Claims of insider information or confidential data

Scam artists will try to leverage anything to convince you to hand over money. Recently, some scam artists have even claimed to represent the United States government. The scam artists send messages to potential victims claiming to offer a portion of the economic stimulus package to help them out during the recession [source: Hruska].

Some potential victims have turned the tables on the scam artists. A Web site called 419 Eater urges people who have encountered scams to return the favor with scambaiting. The site defines scambaiting as luring scam artists into drawn-out correspondence in an effort to waste their time and resources. Some have gone so far as to convince the scam artists to travel halfway across the world or even carve a replica of a Commodore 64 computer out of wood! It turns out scam artists are just as vulnerable to greed as their victims.

Stay on alert, don't believe everything you read and always think before you click. To learn more about scams, take a look at the links below.

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More Great Links


  • 419 Eater.
  • Engel, Peter H. "Scam!" St. Martin's Griffin. 1996. ISBN 0312144091.
  • FINRA . "Stocks Spams and Scams." (March 4, 2009)
  • Hruska, Joel. "'Net scammers go after gullible with fake stimulus offers." Ars Technica. March 4, 2009. (March 5, 2009)
  • Swierczynski, Duane. "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Frauds, Scams, and Cons." Alpha. 2002. ISBN 0028644158.
  • University Federal Credit Union. "Investment Scams." (March 5, 2009)