Avoid Online Scams: Follow Your Instincts and Do Your Homework

I might actually let him con me.

Do any of you watch White Collar? It’s a show on USA about a smart (and pretty cute, don’t you think?) con man who specialized in fraud and forgery before he was eventually caught by the FBI. Since he was the best con man out there, the FBI agent who caught him asks him to help with other cases and that’s the show. A fraud of some type is committed. Neal and Peter catch the bad guys.

The cons committed on the show are pretty involved and the probability of something of that magnitude happening to you are slim. However, everyday people get scammed. And these aren’t just silly old retirees who think the internet is magic getting scammed. They target internet savvy business people too. Like VAs.

Here’s my story:

I received an email yesterday from a man identifying himself as Ryan Max saying he had a client interested in my VA services. Immediately I knew something was sketchy so I Googled his name and email domain (@roysupport) and also checked out some VA Forums.  I found nothing.

His first email read:

Hi,

I’m Ryan Max; a client of mine is interested in your Virtual Assistant Services.

Nature of work will be General Office Support e.g. schedule appointments, handling travel arrangements, performing research, and distributing information via e-mail.

We will be interested to know what your mode of operations & discounted rates are.

Thanks and regards
Ryan Max

I responded asking for information on his client. He responded with:

Hi Kristina for the email. [Yes, that's how it was sent]

My client is a Department in a Government Agency and I choose to believe we can get a reasonable discount considering the fact that your service will be ongoing to replace another VA.

We are looking at up to 50 hrs monthly.

Thanks

Ryan

I responded telling him what my rates were and asking again about his client. I received this:

In line with my agreement with the Agency Kristina , their name will only be disclosed on signing of a Contract.

On receipt of your email I discussed with him & he is willing to pay $60 per hour.

When he pays you I will be getting 50% of the amount he sends to you as my Commission.

Do you agree with this?

I, of course, did not agree with this, but was feeling a bit Magnum PI-like (without the stache…and, sadly, without the Ferrari as well)  and wanted to know how far Mr. Max was willing to go. I fired back an email saying if he couldn’t provide me with information about his client perhaps he could give me some information about himself. I asked for a phone number, address, website and references. Mr. Max has yet to respond. Maybe it’s the lack of a moustache…

Later that afternoon, I looked over the VA Forums again and sure enough, his name now popped up as a scam. Several other VAs had received the same email. Had I not been so inquisitive and had agreed to his terms, he would have sent me a formal looking contract to sign. If I had signed, I would have then received an email asking me to open bank accounts at various institutions and give him my bank information as well.

Yes, this is directed at VAs, but it is a fairly common MO of online scammers. We hear these stories all the time. So here are a few common sense things to think about to avoid being scammed.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Yeah, yeah I know you’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating. You probably aren’t gonna make a million dollars working at home (trust me on that) or lose 50 pounds in a week.
  2. Loose lips sink ships. Do not give out any personal information like social security numbers or bank routing numbers to anyone who has contacted you first. Especially in emails. No credible institution will contact you and ask you to enter sensitive information over the phone or in an email. If you receive an email or phone call saying your account has been compromised, step back and use the contact information given to you when you set up your account. You can also be scammed by people you have initiated contact with so:
  3. Do your homework. There are lots of companies out there who have legitimate looking websites looking to sell you something or buy something from you. How do you tell the good guys from the bad? Google the company name followed by the word “scam” for starters. Forums are also a wealth of information – and there is a forum for just about every subject out there nowadays.
  4. Set up an email account solely for online transactions. Create an email account through Gmail, Yahoo or whatever free internet based email provider you wish. Give that out when shopping online, filling out surveys or signing up for email alerts. Have your guard up when you check this email account. This will also cut down on the amount of Spam you get to your main email account.
  5. Ask yourself one question. Is what is being offered to you worth the possibility of being scammed? Is it worth losing everything you have? OK, that was two questions, but I need to make a point here. Work with me, people. You could possibly lose all of your money.  And your dignity. You will feel stupid if you get scammed. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

I know these things seem like common sense, but these scammers are good. Very good. They know what you want, know how to play on your fears and insecurities, and know how to close the deal.

For more information on popular scams and how to avoid them, check out these articles on my delicious page.  I especially liked this one which labels those who are prime to be scammed. It’s pretty funny.

Thanks,
Kris

Have any of you been the target of a scam? Let us know how they approached you in the comment section.

Have a topic you would like me to blog about? Recommendations? Think this post was great or awful or just so-so? Let me know in the comments section!

4 Responses to “Avoid Online Scams: Follow Your Instincts and Do Your Homework”

  1. ginette isenberg says on :

    Hi Kristina,

    You are so right about being diligent. I received an email recently from someone who, it turned out, was harvesting the information from a professional organization I belong to and using it to spam members. The organization is very good at going after misuse and abuse of their member information. Using their RFP process appears to be a safer way to secure clients. At this point I never reply to stray contacts that are not funneled the RFP system. Most of my clients contacts are through personal networking and word of mouth, but I like to keep current with online methods as well. Thanks for the heads-up on this one.

  2. Kris says on :

    You’re welcome Ginette! I am pretty sure he pulled my information from a VA directory as well based on the number of other VAs hit. I thought it was pretty bold going after an industry that is known for being somewhat tech savvy, but I guess it goes to show you anyone can slip and get taken.

  3. ginette isenberg says on :

    RE – Ryan Max just surfaced and this was just posted on my group listserve by another member:

    “This is definitely a scam. The domain “roysupport.com” was used a few weeks ago by “Tony Mayer,” another scammer. That scam was masquerading as helping someone associated with a federal agency.

    The domain name registration address is the Omni Hotel at the CNN Center in Atlanta.”

    ummm. . .

  4. Kris says on :

    So they aren’t limiting themselves to VAs then, huh? Thanks for letting us know!