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Désirée Ávila, REALTOR®

5 Online Scams You Should Be Aware Of


Hollywood movies and TV series are replete with movies about con men and grifters. In Catch Me if You Can, Leonardo di Caprio plays Frank Abagnale. Abagnale, a mere 19 years old, is a professional con man. Abagnale is such an astute con artist that after catching him, the U.S. government hires him to be a consultant.

In the 2019 movie Hustle, Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway play two very different con women. Wilson portrays Penny Rust, a clumsy, inelegant, awkward grifter that performs petty cons for small sums of money. Hathaway portrays Josephine Chesterfield, a sophisticated and elegant con woman that has made millions from her cons. As the plot plays out Rust and Chesterfield challenge each other to a winner takes all con game. What ensues is a side splitting tragicomedic hustle with an unexpected twist. 

Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star in the Hustle. | Photo credit: MGM Pictures

While you watching these movies you might find yourself siding with Abagnale for scamming a big corporation or laughing at the misadventure of Rust and Chesterfiled for defrauding the freakishly rich. However, in real life the victims are rarely big corps and the uber rich, they are people like you and I. And when people like you and I get scammed the pain is real and the damage is deep, sometimes even fatal.

In this article we are going to share with you some popular scams every consumer should be aware of: 

  • Fake Check Scams;
  • Crowdfunding Scams;
  • Phishing Scams;
  • Family or Friend in Danger Scam;
  • Online Romance Scam.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable so share this information with family and friends to help make them aware of scams. 

Fake Check Scams

Fake check scammers will purport to do legitimate business with the victim. They will send you a check for a product or a service , often times it is for more money then what is owed. Then for some reason, after the victim deposits the check, they will insist on a refund or that the victim send them the overage. Sometime after the victim has sent the refund or the overage they get the devastating news that the check they originally deposited is a fake check. By the time they find out there is nothing they can do about it.

If you receive checks from doing business with people online, cash the check personally or wait at least 30 days for the check to clear fully before using and or refunding any monies. Don’t let the person on the other end of the transaction bully you into anything. Beware!

Crowdfunding Scams

Crowdfunding is a popular way for people to raise money for a project or a cause. A crowdfunding initiative often tugs at people’s heartstrings or their desire to make more money. By convincing people to donate small sums of money crowdfunding scammers often cash in on a bogus project or charity. 

A typical crowdfunding project might be something like iBackPack. iBackPack promised to create backpacks with built-in phone chargers. But it was all a lie. When push came to shove the creators of iBackPack did not produce anything and crowdfunders instead of being in the black, found themselves, collectively, $800,000.00 in the red. 

Another typical false crowdfunding cause is a child or person in need of medical care. In 2014 Leatha Kaye Slauson or Iowa sought the sympathy and money of strangers by pleading for help for her terminally ill daughter. In 2019, Jessica Ann Smith, raised more than $10,000 by faking a cancer diagnosis. 

Most crowdfund project’s and causes are legitimate. But before you reach for your wallet and send them a donation, do your homework.

Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are almost as old as the internet. As the name indicates scammers use various schemes in order to “phish” for a person’s personal information. Once they obtain it they use it to commit identity fraud. 

Phishers have created all sorts of deceptive devices to convince people to hand over your personal information without even thinking twice. A phishing email might ask a person to update their payment details or re-set their password. Phishers have also begun to use text messaging as a means to have people more quickly volunteer their personal information. 

Phishing is so successful and so pervasive that according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center approximately $30 million dollars have been lost to phishing schemes. Typical phishing scams will have certain characteristics. According to the Federal Trade Commission consumer website phishing scams share certain characteristics:

  • Phishing emails and text messages are masked to seem like they are from a known or trusted company or service provider. 
  • Phishing emails and text messages are designed to trick you into entering your personal information on a form somewhere. Typically they will:
    • Say there is suspicious activity on an account;
    • Inform you of a problem with your payment information and provide a link for you to update;
    • Ask you to confirm your personal information;
    • Ask you to pay a fake invoice;
    • Ask you to make a payment by following a link;
    • Inform you that you are eligible for some sort of refund;
    • Offer you free stuff;
    • Offer to give you money for doing something simple.
As I was writing this article I received this message. I knew it was fake because of the URL it was telling me to click on. It is completely unidentifiable and the link could take me to any website where scammers can snatch my personal information.

Be suspicious any time a service asks you for your personal information. If you don’t know how to verify the source, call the company in question before you share any information.

Family or Friend in Danger Scam

The Family or Friend in Danger scam puts the victim in a terribly difficult position. The scammer may call, text or email the intended victim with a bogus story. The scammer tells the victim that they are someone you care about and that they are in danger and need money. Scammers will convincingly impersonate a person the victim knows. They will play on the victims emotions and insist they send money right away. 

If this happens to you, resist the urge to act and verify the emergency. Ask questions that only your real friend of family member would know, call friends and family to check the story, and try to contact the person in danger at a number you know to be genuine. Don’t send any money unless you are sure the request is from the person you know. 

Online Romance Scams

Romance scams existed long before the internet but with the advent of the internet romance scams have multiplied at an alarming rate. The internet allows people everywhere looking for love to connect with a potential romantic partners all over the country and the world.

The typical romance scammer takes the time to woo and romance their victim until they gain their victim’s confidence. Once they feel their victim is hooked the lies begin.

According to the Federal Trade Commission consumer website romance scammers often say they are working on an oil rig, in the military somewhere, or a doctor with an international organization. They often follow that lie up with a reason why they are having financial difficulty and need help from the victim.  

Photo: FBI

The organization I work for his waiting for a grant, I haven’t been paid in months, can you wire me $5000 so I can pay for my plane ticket to come see you? I promise I will pay you back” is a typical lie by a romance scammer. The victim, by then hooked, sends the money but their paramour never makes it. Instead they face compounding difficulties each of which requires the victim to send more money.

Some victims are so hooked they send everything they have until they are flat broke. One such person was Al Circelli of Yonkers, New York. After sending $50,000 dollars to what he believed was the love of this life Circelli found himself destitute and hopeless. Circelli was so devastated he took his own life. His story serves, sadly, as a cautionary tale to all who seek love online. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission consumer website in 2018,  $143 million dollars was scammed from people looking for love. This amount is higher than any other reported scam amount.  

If you suspect fraud report it to ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or to the Broward County Consumer Complaints division, 954-357-5350.


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