How to spot a scam: 14 red flags to watch for

Does your security awareness training program help your employees learn when someone is trying to scam them? It should.

I recently received an email from yet another victim of a Craigslist scam. It’s one of the hundreds I’ve read over the last 20 years. In this case, he was selling a valuable cactus plant. The email thread he sent me had all the classic scam tip-offs. The scammer agreed to pay full price and cover shipping, but then had a sudden family death of the person who was supposed to pick up the plant and pay in cash. This type of emotional pull is called a stressor event. 

The scammer said he needed the seller to accept an “emergency” check for larger than the sales price, and then send the overage to someone else to complete the transaction. Anyone in our field would know this was a scam, but only because we’ve seen it before.

What fools the victims is that they mistakenly believe that they are safe once they deposit the check and the bank clears it. This is not true! The bank can reclaim the money at any time if it doesn’t get it from the fraudulent check. “Cleared” in the banking industry doesn’t mean safe to spend.

The banks are up-front about what their initial “clear” means, and they are under a lot of pressure to let the people who deposit checks spend “their money” as soon as possible. Still, I wish when a bank confirms a check has cleared that the check depositor no longer needs to worry. When transactions, checks and bank accounts can be checked in seconds, why is it taking two to five days to verify if a check is truly valid? It isn’t a technological reason…or it doesn’t have to be. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change soon.

Defending against scams starts with awareness

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