How to Spot a Scam


Buzz words like “free” and “earn from home” pop up all the time online. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (I3C), the amount of internet scams went up 22% from 2008 to 2009 and cost Americans approximately $560 million.

So how can you tell if something that is too good to be true is in fact true? There are a few ways to spot the scams.

1. Does the website mention a person from your local area?

If you see a site that says “John Smith from [insert your town here] makes $500 a day sitting at his computer. Find out his trick.” It could be a scam. However if it’s from your local news source this rule doesn’t apply. To determine if it’s real or not, try using a proxy to hide your IP address. If the website changes, it’s a scam. If you don’t know how to use a proxy, ask a friend that lives in a different city to look at the site.

2. Does the site charge you to find out the secret?

Reliable services do not charge you upfront. If anything, they take a cut of the profit. For example, say a company offers the service $10 per user to take a survey. The service will tell you the survey pays $7 and they keep the $3. Normally the service doesn’t tell you how much they are getting paid, you will only know the value for you.

3. Does it claim to be “as seen on” a specific news source?

Scams will try to trick you by showing popular news logos directly on the page. If it’s true, they will link to an original news source or video clip. A common example might say “Seen on the Today Show” but unless you see a video clip with Matt Lauer don’t believe it.

4. Do they belong to the BBB?

Most legit companies should be found at the Better Business Bureau. Unfortunately they don’t all advertise it. To check if a company belongs to the BBB, check out the official Better Business Bureau website. Also, don’t trust a website just because it has the BBB logo. It’s not hard to use an image without permission. So even if the site says it’s accredited, double check if you’re questioning the site.

Companies do not legally need to join the BBB, however you will find that most are members.

What should I do if I, or someone I know, fall for a scam?

IC3 was created by the FBI, White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to help put an end to cyber crimes.  If you fall victim of a scam, you can file a complaint through IC3.

Special thanks to Rita from Chi-Town Cheapskate for reading my rough draft and offering constructive criticism on my formatting.

I would like to leave you with an interesting commercial regarding internet scams. Microsoft created this to promote their new security features for IE, but it does make you think about internet scams.

Just a side note: I have been looking into a few sites that promise users will earn money for things like surveys or reading emails. Once I verify the sites are legit, I will post them for you along with a FAQ. Rest assured that Making Cents of It will not post unverified websites.

Now it's your turn.  Do you have any additional tips to share with the Making Cents of It community?  Leave a comment and we will help each other avoid becoming the next victim.


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