There have been multiple blog posts on the subject of scams and fraud. Unfortunately, the weak economy is good at producing a steady stream of financial scams targeted towards consumers. It is extremely important to see the warning signs of a potential scam.
(1) Do you know who you are dealing with? Dealing with strangers over the Internet, phone, or text regardless of what they promise is never a good idea. Con men are called that because they try to obtain your "confidence" in their offer. Scammers will lie, cheat, and steal their way to your pocketbook if you let them. If someone claims to be from your financial institution, verify that they actually work there by calling a published number that you can locate yourself.
(2) Does it seem like easy money? The old phrase of "does it sound too good to be true?" applies here. If you never entered a lottery it would make it very difficult to actually win one. Real sweepstakes and lotteries also do not require winners to pay upfront costs to receive their winnings. A job or investment opportunity that promises easy money should be scrutinized closely. Any checks received can be verified as legitimate before they are negotiated. Ask your financial institution before negotiating any such items if they can help. Never provide your personal account information to receive winnings or a deposit from a stranger. Money can go out as easily as it comes in!
(3) Is there some urgency or secrecy to the request? If a stranger is trying to lure you into a decision because time is running short, that would be a huge red flag. Asking for your secrecy in a transaction is also a warning sign and could point to possible illegal activity taking place. If the urgency for action is supposedly related to one of your financial accounts, verify with your financial institution that a problem actually does exist. Financial institutions will never ask you for personal information on a call or contact made to you.
Consumers are ripped off every year by scams. Individual losses can vary from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Internet is a great place to research possible scams that are presented for consideration. As an example, typing in "secret shopper scam" in a Google search will provide a considerable number of hits and actual examples. Everyone should take the time and effort to research questionable claims and offers. A few minutes of research can prevent years of heartache over a financial loss that could have been prevented.