Fighting Fraud: The SCAM Framework
This is the first in a series of articles talking about common scams and fraud tactics, and how to avoid being fooled. Every day, scammers from across the globe target people to try and get them to pay up. In future articles, we’ll dive into some of the specific tactics and techniques these criminals use: today, we’re going to give you a simple framework to help you stay safe online.
According to the FBI, in 2019, the Internet Crime Complaint Center received 467,361 complaints in 2019—an average of nearly 1,300 every day—and recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims. And that’s just the complaints that were reported and tracked. Considering that being scammed can be a very embarrassing experience for the victim, it seems reasonable that this number may only represent a of the people who are ripped off every year by internet criminals.
While scammers have a wide variety of tactics, many scams follow the same basic principles. They rely on a victim’s ignorance, fear, and confusion to succeed. But you don’t have to be a victim: by following the SCAM framework, you can use your own know-how to stay safe. You don’t need any special tools or knowledge: you just need to follow these 4 steps.
SCAM: Stop, Consider, Ask, and Monitor.
Scammers can be very convincing. They may pose as a romantic confidante, a relative in trouble, a bank official, or an authority figure. Regardless of the identity they’re using, the goal is the same: to confuse and deceive. The first and most important step in combating a potential scam is to STOP.
If you believe there’s a chance that you may be being scammed, take five minutes to STOP whatever you’re doing. If you’re on the phone with a potential scammer, set down the phone and put it on mute. Successful scammers are good at getting victims to avoid critical thinking and act on urgency and emotion. STOP this tactic in its tracks by consciously stopping yourself.
The second step in defeating scammers is to CONSIDER the situation being presented to you.
Take a few deep breaths and think critically about the information you’re receiving.
Is this logical (does the IRS really take payment through Green Dot)?
Are there red flags (why would a high-level banker use poor English)?
Does your gut feeling tell you something is wrong (how can this stranger who doesn’t know me be in love with me)?
Are you sure that the person you’re communicating with is who they say they are?
Does your car even have a warranty, much less an extended one?
When in doubt, ASK questions – and don’t ask them of the potential scammer. If you’re being lied to, there’s no point in giving someone another chance to further their lies.
ASK yourself: What’s really going on here? Does it make sense?
If you’re being contacted by someone who claims to be from Microsoft, Amazon, Google, your bank, your doctor’s office, etc: reach out to that company’s customer service department directly and ASK them if what’s going on is legitimate. (Do NOT ask the scammer for a contact!)
If you’re in touch with someone who claims to be a relative in trouble, call another member of their family and ASK what’s going on.
You can also ASK a cybersecurity professional, member of law enforcement, private investigator, or other security expert for advice, if you’re not sure what to do. Helping to protect the public is part of their job, and most professionals will be more than happy to assist.
This final step should be part of your everyday practice, but it’s especially important if you are being targeted by scammers. MONITOR your credit reports and bank statements for signs of fraudulent activity and identity theft. Remember that scammers rely on ignorance, and your knowledge is power.
By MONITORing your information, you are forewarned and forearmed. If a scammer has your financial information or is attempting to steal your identity, you are empowered to work with your bank and stop them in their tracks.
Scammers and fraudsters are out there, and they ruin the lives of victims every day. But by following the SCAM framework, you don’t have to be a victim. Remember to Stop, Consider, Ask, and Monitor, and stay safe out there.
In our next article, we’ll talk about some common internet scams, starting with advance fee fraud and its variants.