Easy Money Scams

Money Tree
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A little extra money is always helpful. So most of us take notice when there’s an opportunity for easy money. Unfortunately, most “opportunities” are scams – or opportunities to give money to a con artist.

These scams take advantage of the power of greed (we all have a little of it). And sometimes it’s not really 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

When good work is hard to find, commuting is a bear, 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 employees if there’s no need to have staff on-location. Scammers have jumped on this train, 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 skills and actually 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. Moving money around is especially troubling. These “jobs” might be referred to as mystery shoppers or money transfer agents.

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 you’ll never be reimbursed for the payment. You might think you’re safe because you received the payment before you passed it on, but that’s what the con artists want you to think.

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 really arrive in your bank account. But your bank lets you spend the money, and you might even be able to withdraw cash right away. It takes a few days (or more) to find out that the check was no good.

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 larger and larger money transfers. At some point, a payment to you will bounce, and your deposit will be reversed – 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 get money out of the country (perhaps because of the political climate). They just need a US bank account to keep it in temporarily – that’s where you come in – and they’re happy to pay handsomely if you’ll help.

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

This scam has evolved over the years, so you might hear slight 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 difficult to get the money out. All you have to do is send money for taxes, bribes, or legal fees, and funds will be transferred to your US account.

Charity scams involve a rich 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 might get used 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 you’ve got several million dollars coming your way. All you have to do is prepay the taxes, and the money is yours. Of course, 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.