By John Prince
There are thousands (millions?) of enterprising scammers out there in countries all over the world, just itching to take your money. They send you a startling message asking you to call, answer the phone and inform you that in order to confirm your order/process your refund/cancel they will (of course) need your credit card number. Maybe your SSN, too, just for final confirmation. Most likely they already have your address and, obviously, your email and/or text number.
Here’s what to do before you panic and push the button:
- Read the message at least five times out loud.
- Look for suspicious clues. Spellings, punctuation, odd phrasing, missing information, and other clues.
- Think: Did I order anything for that amount? Ask your spouse and children if they did.
- If you have the slightest doubt, delete the message, and move on.
Just last week I got a disturbing text: Transaction alert $493.5 will be debited from your card for your last0RDERID#17211. Contact us on 18332207984 if you wish to cancel.
This is the word for word text with misspellings, mispunctuation, and everything.
At first glance you might say, “Holy *@%!!, I didn’t order anything for $493.5.” And you’d no doubt be correct. The text has so many red flags it’s screaming, “SCAM.”
- Transaction alert. Notice that there is no punctuation between “alert” and the “$.” That’s curious. You’d think there might be a period, an exclamation point, or something. Hmmm…
- $493.5. Now there’s a dead giveaway. Unless the US Mint changed everything today, we have a decimal currency. That means TWO digits after the decimal point. A legit credit card computer generated notice simply would not make that mistake.
- “…your card…” What card? If Visa sends you a legit email that will ALWAYS include the type of card. In fact, the likelihood of any credit card sending you an alert like this is ZERO.
- “…last0RDERID#17211…” On closer inspection: Another complete reveal. No space between “last” and “0.” What? Zero. The scammers have typed a zero instead of “O.” Probably don’t speak English—they’re just typing what the see on the piece of paper and don’t know the difference. How many more clues do we need? Well, here’s a couple of bonus ones.
- “…Contact us on…” is how the Asians, Europeans and British often say it. In the US we say, “Contact us AT…” Want another clue?
- “…18332207984…” Unless you’re planning to call someone in China or Mexico, this number won’t do you much good. Looks like a US number with the +1 added. I certainly would not dial it up. I looked it up and Google confirmed that it was located (possibly) in Mexico or China. Of course, after all of the other clues, it’s just one more red flag.
None of this means you’re a bad person or not careful. Companies, financial organizations, and associations have been hacked so many times (most implement better anti-hacking measures AFTER they’ve been hacked once or twice) that our information is already out there and readily available to the right bidder. You can’t stop that.
But you can practice smart scammer hygiene and stay out of trouble.