More Than 40% of Consumers Don't Recognize Red Flags of a Scam

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If you haven't received an email by now offering you a huge sum of money in exchange for a small initial deposit or fee, you should feel a little left out.

According to "Financial Fraud and Fraud Susceptibility in the United States," a new report from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 67 percent of consumers have received this type of email. Another 36 percent have received a letter that says they've won a lottery in a country they've never visited.

The survey found that all told, more than 8 in 10 consumers have been asked to participate in a potentially fraudulent offer.

While most people who are targeted by a scam aren't drawn in, 11 percent of those surveyed had lost a significant amount of money due to a fraudulent offer. But oddly, when asked if they had been a victim of fraud, only 4 percent admitted that they had.

Americans age 65 and older are not only more likely to be targeted by scammers, according to the FINRA research, but they're more likely to lose money if they are targeted -- 34 percent more likely than respondents in their 40s.

Red Flags Aren't Obvious to Everyone

It's frightening how frequently we miss the signs that someone's out to scam us.

FINRA found that more than 40 percent of the people surveyed failed to recognize some of the signs of a fraudulent offer, including some classic red flags, such as offers that tout:
  • A 110 percent annual return on an investment
  • A fully guaranteed investment
  • A promise of a daily rate of return of over 2 percent
In addition to the indications above such as unrealistic promises of a high return without risk, the Better Business Bureau says some of the most common red flags for a scam that consumers ignore include:
  • Your gut instinct tells you something is off. If something doesn't sound right or feel right, don't brush your instinct aside. At the very least, do some investigating.
  • High-pressure tactics. If you're told something is only available for a limited time or you're pushed into making an impulse decision, this often indicates a scam.
  • You're asked to use a money transfer. Money transfers can't be traced, so chances are higher that if you're asked to send money that way, you're being scammed.
  • You're asked for personal information. Scammers commonly ask for things like your address, phone number, banking information, and birth date to gather information about you that can be used for identity theft or to charge a credit card. They can use a variety of ways to reach you if they have some information and can ask you to log in or give them a password via email or phone that can seem legitimate.
  • Vague details. Most scammers attempt to give out as little information about themselves or the specifics of a deal or an investment so that there's less likelihood they can be caught.
  • No contact information. If you can't call back or reach the person who's contacted you, that's a good indication they're not legitimate.

While con artists constantly come up with new variations on old themes to steal your money, staying vigilant and watching out for these warning signs can help protect your bank account from their scams.

Michele Lerner is a contributing writer to The Motley Fool.


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