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A scam is an attempt, through deceit or trickery, to intentionally mislead someone, usually with the goal of financial gain. Traditional scams play upon the vulnerability of people by exploiting human virtues such as compassion and trust.

A common scam: the victim is usually sent a worthless check, which the victim then deposits into their account under the assumption that it is a legitimate transaction. The victim is then urged to forward a small portion of the value of the check to the trickster as cash, and quickly. The victim then does not have time to discover that the check is fraudulent.

There are many different types of scams, including deceptive lotteries, inheritances, employment opportunities, overpayment on sold items, and high-profit/no-risk offers. Below are some common scams and how you can protect yourself.

Lottery Scams

Lottery schemes tend to have one or more of the following characteristics, some things to look out for:

  • Victims are generally notified via U.S. mail.
  • Many letters appear to be from reputable companies or financial institutions.
  • Some lottery scams claim to be from other countries, such as Canada or the Netherlands.
  • Victims may receive an authentic-looking check.
  • Upon contacting an organization, victims may be asked to deposit the check and then return a portion of the money to cover fees or taxes.
  • Even though the amount requested for payment is relatively small compared to the winnings they've supposedly won, legitimate lotteries do not ask recipients to pay fees to secure their prize.

Protect Yourself From Lottery Scams

  • If you didn't play a lottery, you didn't win.
  • Ignore communications from foreign lotteries.
  • Legitimate lotteries don't require winners to pay fees to collect winnings.
  • Never give out personal or financial information to anyone over the Internet or phone.
  • Be very skeptical of unsolicited letters, calls, or emails informing you that you've won a lottery.

Inheritance Scams

Inheritance scams try to deceive the victim into believing that a long-lost relative has passed away and left them a large sum of money. Scammers will go so far as to research family tree information to make the inheritance seem more believable. The victim may receive an email or an official-looking letter. These notifications often ask the victim to send a check to help cover expenses associated with their inheritance. Upon sending a check, the victim soon realizes they will not be receiving the money.

Protect Yourself From Inheritance Scams

  • Carefully review all unsolicited regular mail and email.
  • Check with relatives about recent deaths in your family.
  • Don't give out personal information over the Internet or telephone.

Nigerian Letter or 419 Scam

This scam can begin with unsolicited communication from individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials. This so called "official" offers the victim a percentage of a large amount of money in exchange for your assistance in placing money in an overseas bank account(s). You may be asked to send your account numbers, or sometimes a cashier's check or wire.

Protect Yourself From Inheritance Scams

  • If it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Avoid offers to get rich quick through a complex transfer of funds.
  • Do not put your money, identity and reputation at stake.