Financial Scams: How to Avoid

Have you ever been the victim of a financial scam? According to a survey carried out by the Brazilian Federation of Banks (Febraban), 22% of people have already experienced this. In September 2021, this number was 21%. The main victims, according to the survey, are over 60 years old – they accounted for 30% of the total.

I can speak with some authority, because unfortunately I have suffered some of them, and I can assure you how unpleasant it is. As a financial educator, I would like to bring guidance to about three of these scams that are applied to take your money, but also bring tips on how to avoid them.

1) Digital fishing

You have surely received an email, SMS, WhatsApp or message on social media with a suspicious link. At times like this it is very important to be calm and attentive, because you are probably being the target of a very common practice on the internet: phishing.

Phishing is a term that refers to a “digital fishing”, in which people with malicious intent (fraudsters) seek to obtain passwords and personal data from various users through baits, such as malicious links and even fake web pages built with this single objective.

It may be that the financial loss is not necessarily yours, but the fraudster can access the contact list of your social network and ask for money from third parties, pretending to be you.

There are some simple measures that can save you a big headache. First of all, never open or click on links in emails with unknown recipient. Always keep your antivirus programs up to date and avoid automatic downloads or decline download requests that you do not fully agree with or know about.

Another way to give your profiles and accounts more protection is with two-factor authentication, which is an extra layer of security aimed at confirming the user’s identity. When activating two-step verification, the user needs to provide a second information after entering login and password, and only then will he have access to the account.

The second factor may vary depending on the service you want to log in to. You can set SMS code, PIN, a second password, answers to secret questions, physical devices (like credit card or USB token drives) or even biometric data like fingerprint or iris scanner.

This can be done by Google and similar apps downloaded from your device’s store. For WhatsApp, it can be done within the app’s settings.

When accessing a website, confirm that the URL in the search engine matches the website you are looking for and, if you are suspicious, type the destination you want to access instead of clicking on a link.

And attention! Never share this type of message. This can affect other people and strengthen the main purpose of the scam, which is to have more people taking the bait.

2) Fake kidnappings demanding money

This is a scam usually applied to elderly people, with the aim of extorting values, claiming that they kidnapped a child or relative of the victim. Whoever receives the suspicious call needs to remain calm. Listening a lot and saying almost nothing, being almost monosyllabic.

A tip is to use a fictitious name for your relative and observe if the scammer starts to repeat that name as if he were with someone in his power. Even if he knows the name of a relative and gets it right first time, it doesn’t mean he’s with the person.

Using common names is a strategic practice in this type of “business”, for a very simple reason, we all know some João, José, Antônio, Maria or Ana, and the criminal knows it.

When you receive this type of call, prudence recommends not making any promises, not arranging any payments.

If you are afraid or suspect that it may be true and that a child or a close relative is in the possession of criminals, try to alert someone who is nearby, signal or find some way to write and ask to take you immediately to a police station. Be careful not to let the criminal notice that you have changed environment.

In most cases, the scammer probes the person and tries to be understanding, to appear solidarity, so much so that the value drops significantly.

In many cases, at the beginning the value is around R$ 20 thousand and in the end it even requires a recharge of a few reais to be made on a certain cell phone number. The fall in values ​​and the urge for a quick negotiation are also a strong indication that the kidnapping is not real.

3) Selling products at gas stations

Unlike the situations above, these scams can often be applied by service providers in our daily lives.

Recently, Globo’s “Fantástico” program showed in a report how a gas station network scheme worked to deceive customers. In this case, the company is a network of gas stations in the metropolitan region of Porto Alegre, and the goal was to trick more and more drivers into selling overpriced and often unnecessary products. Customers who went to fill up their car and left with an account of more than R$1,000 in car products.

It doesn’t mean that this will happen at any gas station or that you shouldn’t buy products in these places, but I suggest that you do preventive maintenance and oil changes at a mechanic or professional you trust. This will provide you with better prices and guarantee of the real need. If you have to do this at a gas station, make sure that the purchase is really necessary and that it is from a trusted location.

Scams like these generate huge financial losses, and regardless of getting your money back, emotional upsets are inevitable.

As I was a victim of the three scams mentioned, unfortunately the first time I didn’t know how to deal with calm and assertiveness. So I hope these tips help everyone who has gone through or may go through situations like these.