Most of us know enough not to respond to emails that urge us to click a link to update our online profiles at our bank, credit card, or other money-related accounts.
But we are still vulnerable to falling for scams that appeal to our vanity. For example:
1. Offers of prepayment for your services
You get an email from someone who claims to be from out of town, but will be visiting the area in the future. They want to schedule a few appointments in advance, and send you a cashier's check. But it's for much more than the amount agreed upon - e.g, $5000 instead of $500.
The sender follows up with another email, explaining the mistake, and asks you to refund the difference. Since it was a cashier's check (which is supposedly equivalent to cash) you refund the person $4500, only to find out a couple of weeks later that the original check was a fraud. It is highly unlikely that you will recover the $4500.
2. Inquiries about purchasing large quantities of your book
Someone in a foreign country who expresses interest in buying a large number of your books for a school or other plausible purpose will ask whether you will ship to that country, and whether you take credit card payments.
This may look legitimate on the surface. However, similar to the above, they send an overpayment and request a refund before the fraud is discovered. Or, they say they will be using a private shipper (a company you've never heard of) and ask you to prepay the shipping costs to that company. They promise to reimburse you for the shipping fee if you just add it to the credit charge for the books. Later, after you've sent payment to the so-called shipper, you learn that the whole deal was a fraud, and that the credit card number of the buyer is not valid.
3. Offers to host your educational presentation
You get an email from someone who says they admire your work, and offer you the opportunity to do a webinar or teleseminar on a topic of your choice. They name-drop some high-profile experts and promise that these experts will announce your presentation to their email subscribers.
The catch is that you need to promote the company's health coach training program (which costs several thousand dollars) to a few thousand of your own contacts, and to provide them with the names and emails of those contacts. The promotions that they require you to send out are based on inaccurate and/or skewed statistics, claiming that health coaches are in high demand, and that they make a great deal of money.
Thus, your educational presentation is just a front for recruiting people into an expensive, self-credentialed training program that is not recognized by quality-control organizations.
4. Media opportunities for radio and TV
Someone who claims to "admire your work" offers you your own Internet radio talk show. They suggest a potential audience of millions of listeners. You just need to pay for production costs up front - which are in the thousands of dollars. They don't tell you that there are many free options (such as BlogTalkRadio) for hosting a radio show.
Offers come in from supposed TV production companies as well, saying that they are looking to interview an expert like you, in conjunction with a well-known network or TV star. If you respond to their emails, they set up a phone call, supposedly as a "pre-interview." But it's really a sales call. You are pressured to make a decision now because of short production time. Oh, and by the way, you're going to have to come up with $23,000 for production costs. If you take the bait, you'll later learn that the company is not at all affiliated with the TV network they alluded to, and that other promises that were implied will not be honored.
5. Offers to sell you "likes" or followers on social media sites
If you want to look popular online, and don't have much activity on your Facebook or Twitter accounts, it's tempting to respond to ads that offer you several thousand "likes" or several hundred followers for an apparent modest sum. Don't do it. It violates the terms of service, and could get you shut down and banned by Facebook and Twitter.
How to protect yourself
When you get an offer that seems unusual, look for signs that its main purpose is to get your money. First of all, be skeptical of flattery. If you haven't published extensively on a topic, if you don't have a strong web presence for your area of expertise, or if you have not been quoted in media lately, ask yourself why the emailer would be so eager to connect with you.
Google the name of the company or individual and add the word fraud or scam to your search terms. If there have been any complaints, they should show up in the search results.
Also, be on the alert for any or all of the following in the email you receive:
The content is written in poor English. It's probably not legitimate, especially if other warning signs below are also indicated.
The sender's email address is from a free service such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail, when they claim to represent a legitmate company. Most companies have email addresses associated with their websites.
Deceptive links hide the actual URL. If a web link is provided, see if the actual site it points to is the same as how the link reads. For example, the link may read "pbs.org." But if you right-click and "copy link" and then paste it into a text note, you might see that the underlying link is something entirely different, e.g., "rigmo.pbs.ru" That's a clear sign that the email is a scam.
Generic salutations and admiration. The writer does not address you by your name, or is very vague about how they found you or the specific nature of your work that they are interested in. If they provide a phone number and you call them, they try to get you to reveal details about your work, because they have no idea who you are. If they talk about "investment" or upfront costs, or if they pressure you to make a decision immediately, politely refuse and hang up.