Common money scams and how to avoid them

SUNDAY MAGAZINE |
Scammers deploy a powerful weapon: your emotions.

You might think you’re impervious to money scams until you become a victim. Financial fraudsters lurk in literary every corner of life, waiting to con you out of your hard-earned money. Financial scams can take all kinds of shapes and forms.

In many developing countries, Kenya included, financial scams increased in 2020 as people struggled with the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many people think of fraudsters as shady-looking characters that will automatically trigger your warning bells. However, most fraudsters are seemingly charming people who prey on your trusting nature to get you to hand over money or valuable personal information.

Scammers deploy a powerful weapon: your emotions. They use tactics that induce fear, guilt, greed for wealth, or the promise of love to get what they want from their victims. They send literally hundreds and thousands of emails, text messages, social media messages, and make lots of calls per day, hoping that unwitting recipients will take the bait. While most scammers aim for quick gains, others take a slower approach where they build your trust over time.

Unfortunately, thousands of people continue to fall victims to scammers. And even as people wisen up to their tactics, they keep inventing new ones.

In a recent report titled ‘Fraud and Economic Crime: Opportunity in the Face of Adversity’ by PwC, 58 per cent of respondents said they had experienced economic crimes in the past two years. This figure is significantly higher than the global average of 47 per cent. The report further claimed that Kenyans had lost a total of Sh5.5 billion in the said duration.

According to the report, the four top types of fraud in Kenya are bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation, and customer fraud.

While no one is truly impervious to fraudsters, knowing what to look out for is the first step towards safety.

Here are some tips to keep you safe from scammers:

Think Before You Click

Phishing is a popular technique used by scammers to gain access to their victims’ personal information and money. This is where the scammer sends you a message, pretending to be a legitimate business or individual. When you open such emails, you might be asked to click on a link which either downloads harmful software into your computer or phone. You might also be requested to fill in confidential personal information such as banking details.

In Kenya, many phishing scams take the form of promising recipients access to free airtime, money, and other products.

The best way to be safe from this common type of cybercrime is by not clicking phishing emails or text messages. Learn how to distinguish phishing emails from legitimate ones. For instance, if you hover your cursor over the link and it doesn’t have an HTTP URL, it is likely to be from a scammer.

Legitimate emails also have a company’s identifiable domain such as tomsmith@paypal.com as opposed to tomsmith@paypal267.com . Hover over the address to see if it contains extra letters, numbers, or characters. Make sure that the email address format matches with other confirmed legitimate emails.

Bear in mind that it is highly unusual for legitimate companies that you have trusted with your personal information – such as banks, telephone service providers, and credit card companies – to send emails, texts, or make calls asking for your information. Don’t fall for phishing scams where the scammer claims that the company lost data while updating their systems. If in doubt, always contact the company via their official email or phone number provided on their website.

Refuse to Act on Emotion

Scammers thrive on inducing fear and panic. For instance, they might claim that your SIM card will be blocked by the telephone service provider if you don’t give certain information. They might also say that you will be arrested in connection with a crime unless you send money or give them personal information.

In such instances, slow down and breathe before taking any action. If they feel like you’re likely to give in, they might try to apply pressure on you by calling incessantly or sending numerous texts. If you feel unsure, you can run it by someone else – perhaps a friend or family member who is street smart or tech savvy. The scammer will scamper away if they sense the involvement of another party who’s savvy to their tricks.

Another way to catch scammers is by searching the names or message they’ve given you online. There are groups and online forums dedicated to exposing fraudsters. It’s highly probable that you will find the names they have used or specific phrases on such forums. 

Thoroughly Vet Online Stores

With more and more people turning to online shopping, especially due to the pandemic, scams connected to online shopping are on the rise. Online shopping scammers pretend to be legitimate sellers. To fool you, they might even create a website where they set up fake online stores.

Since online shopping is here to stay, vetting online vendors thoroughly before giving them your money is key to avoid being scammed. The first warning sign is if the price seems too good to be true. Ridiculously low prices should trigger your warning bells and tell you to investigate further and tread carefully. Other warning signs to look out for include shoddy or incomplete website presentation, scarce contact information, and no physical address.

Additionally, check on their refund, cancellation, and delivery policies. If the seller doesn’t provide clear policies, they’re likely to be scammers. If in doubt, ask to pay for goods on delivery. While supporting small online vendors is admirable, remember that it is mostly up to you to ensure that you don’t fall victim to scams.

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