Common Online Scams and Why People Fall for Them

I recently helped to setup a website by the name of You-Reviews, the purpose of which was to provide reviews for an array of products and to also write about scams. Two things became immediately clear. Firstly, a large number of people, when looking for reviews and info on a product or service, will use the word “scam.”

If you search for a celebrity’s name on Google, the second or third auto-fill query is usually “Is [Celebrity Name] Gay?” and there is a similar trend with products and services, with the second and third query usually being “Is [Name] a scam?.”

This goes to show that we’re not very trusting these days. And when you consider that this query is more common in online-only products/ services, it’s proof that much of our distrust focuses on the internet. But that’s not surprising, because the second thing I discovered is that there are a huge number of scams going around. It seems that everyone is trying to get something from you, by any means necessary.

“Official” Scams

There is a lot of money in fear, and when you combine this with the reverence that people have for the IRS, it’s no wonder that scammers have created the IRS scam to try to scare people into giving them money. This is incredibly common in the United States right now and many call centers have been set up in Bangladesh and India to perpetrate this scam.

In the IRS scam, the scammer pretends to be from the IRS, warning you that you have to pay a fine otherwise you will be arrested. They quote some facts and stats, they make shocking claims and for a few seconds at least, they sound believable.

That begins to disappear, of course, when you realize that the person speaking to you seems to have gotten all of his knowledge of the US police force from NCIS. It’s gone completely by the time they tell you that you have to pay them in gift cards. Or rather, it should be gone, but these guys are actually succeeding in scamming people, somehow.

If you have any vulnerable or stupid people in your family, you may want to warn them about this scam. Or just ban them from ever answering the phone. The scammers will threaten everything from arrests to audits and more. Anything that strikes fear in people, even when they’re innocent.

There are other scams that involve official organizations and play on the same fear and reverence, but are equally stupid. A good rule of thumb for avoiding these is to know that official organizations really aren’t that desperate for iTunes gift cards.

401 Scams

The Nigerian Prince scam is the oldest in the book. But it’s still ongoing and there are still people who fall for it. It’s down to greed, and also a little stupidity. This scam takes on many forms, but the premise is the same. In order to get a huge sum of money you have to send them a smaller sum, usually to pay fees.

There are similar scams that try to trick you into sending electronics often by convincing you that they have a genius business plan. These ones actually make more sense. They convince the victim that secondhand electronics can be bought cheap in the US and then sold for a small fortune in poor countries. So, they ask you to buy them and send them and in return they’ll pay your share of the profits.

Of course, none of that is true and you’ll never see any money. But these scams are still popular. There is a video series on Youtube titled “Lie-Beria” that tracks one of these scams and is well worth a watch.

Dating Scams

These scams play on desperation and loneliness, which makes them some of the most despicable of all. The spammers setup fake dating profiles on sites like Plenty of Fish and they target middle aged women in the United States.

They have a target type, and that type tends to be divorced women with kids who live away taking college educations. They want someone who has money, is lonely and is perhaps so desperate to find someone that they are blind to the obvious deception.

The scammers often claim to be entrepreneurs or to work on oil rigs, giving them an excuse to keep strange hours and to claim that they travel a lot and therefore can’t meet up. Surprisingly, they seem willing to talk to the victim on the phone. Many of these scammers reside in West Africa and have accents to go with it, but they simply tell the victim that they picked up the accent after spending too much time in West Africa for work.

They will keep several online relationships going with multiple women, all at different stages of the scam. When they have been speaking for a few months and they have a good understanding of the woman’s weaknesses and finances, they will start asking for money. The reasons vary, ranging from hospital expenses, to business problems and debts. They look for sympathy and they play on the feeling that the victim has developed for them, so they make the woman think they are desperate and have nowhere else to turn.

These scammers have also been known to request money to pay for flights so they can visit the victim, which of course never happens.

Some women have lost more than $100,000 to these scammers. They are lied to and they suspect that they are lied to, but humiliation and denial sets in and they just keep paying. They are like gambling addicts in that they keep feeding the beast in the hope that everything will come good eventually. It never does.