Avoid These Easy Money Scams

Money Tree
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Extra money is always helpful. So most of us take notice when an opportunity for easy money arises. Unfortunately, most “opportunities” are scams—or opportunities to give money to a con artist.

These scams take advantage of the power of greed. That doesn’t mean you’re a greedy person if these situations get your attention. Most people are naturally drawn toward anything that can help them improve their lives. And sometimes it’s not even a matter of greed—you’re just trying to stay afloat. Either way, keep in mind that it’s not always easy to tell the difference between getting help and getting taken advantage of (until after the fact).

Work From Home Scams

When rewarding work is hard to find, your commute is a drag, and you’ve got family to care for, working at home might sound ideal. We live in a digital age, and businesses increasingly hire remote workers when there’s no need to have staff on-location. Scammers have also noticed that trend, and the internet is full of scams offering jobs that you can do at home.

How do you spot these scams? If you actually have in-demand skills and you really have to do work, it’s less likely that it’s a scam. But some jobs offer easy money, and that should raise your suspicions. Others try to fake you out by explaining how you’ll need dedication and hard work—but the potential upside is unlimited.

Moving money around is particularly troubling. Mystery shoppers and money transfer agent jobs sometimes fall into this category.

If all you have to do is accept money and pass it on to somebody else, you’re probably part of a scam, and it’s going to end badly. In short, you’ll eventually pay somebody out of your bank account, and your employer never reimburses you for the payment. You might think you’re safe because you receive payments before you pass them on, but that’s what the con artists want you to believe.

Why the scam works: Money doesn’t move through the banking system as quickly as we might think. When you deposit a check, it takes several days for the funds to arrive in your bank account. But your bank lets you spend the money within one day, and you might even be able to withdraw cash right away. Unfortunately, it takes a few days (or much longer) to find out that the check was no good.

How it ends: Even if things go well for a while (meaning the checks you get from your employer don’t bounce), you’re just being “trained” to feel comfortable making increasingly large money transfers. At some point, a payment to you will bounce, and your bank will reverse the deposit to your account—leaving you with a lower (or negative) bank account balance. Your bank will charge you fees, and you’ll have to replace the money that you’ve already sent away.

Whether you wire money from your bank or send funds with Western Union, those transfers are difficult or impossible to reverse (being asked to make irreversible money transfers is another red flag).

Foreign Wealth

By now, most people are familiar with the “Nigerian Prince” or 419 advance fee scam—but it still works. What's the appeal? You get a lot of money (millions) for doing almost nothing.

In these scams, somebody with wealth and prestige contacts you, and they want to move money out of their country (perhaps because of the political climate). They just need a US bank account to keep it in temporarily, and that’s where you come in. They’re happy to pay handsomely if you’re willing to help.

Depending on the scammer and how far you’re willing to go, the other party asks for your bank account numbers, and they eventually ask you to send money to help facilitate the transaction. You never get any money, but you get endless excuses about “complications” and additional unexpected expenses that need to be paid (until you finally give up).

This scam has evolved over the years, so you might see several variations. But the odds of getting any money are still the same:

Inheritance scams come with the promise of great riches from a long-lost relative. They might be in the United States (but then it’d be too easy to research things), but they’re more likely overseas where red-tape makes it challenging to get the money out. All you have to do is send money for taxes, bribes, or legal fees, and funds will arrive in your U.S. account.

Charity scams involve a wealthy do-gooder far away who’d rather give his money to charity than give it to a corrupt government. Since he’ll trust basically anybody in the United States, he’d like your bank information, where he’ll send money, and you can pocket a nice percentage for your troubles. Unfortunately, that information is more likely to end up helping him to drain your accounts.

Lottery scams are fake notifications that you’re a winner. Of course, you’ve never entered the lottery, so that's unlikely, but it’s worth following up because there may be several million dollars coming your way. All you have to do is prepay the taxes, and the money is yours. The thing is, legitimate lotteries withhold taxes for you—they don’t ask you to prepay for anything.

You've heard it before, but it's worth repeating: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.