How to Tell if Someone is Trying to Scam You Online

getting scammed online
Watch out! Scammers have tricky ways to prey on your vulnerabilities.

You may be aware that there is the potential for fraud whenever you buy or sell something online, but did you know that even moneyless online transactions, such as the sharing of information through an online dating site or business networking site, can also make you a target to online scammers?

Knowing the most common online scams and the red flags that identify them will help keep you, your identity, and your finances safe whenever you are completing a digital transaction or sharing information online.

Common Online Scams & Identifying Red Flags

Knowing the most common online scams and how they work is key when it comes to protecting yourself from becoming a victim of online fraud.

Scam   How it Works  Red Flags   
Fake Seller Account  The seller sets up a fake Facebook account then creates a seller account to list items that don’t exist.   Look at the seller’s Facebook profile – if anything seems amiss (random bot photos, very few posts, or a new account without any content, etc.) odds are it’s a fake account.  
Going Outside of Facebook  The seller requests to complete the transaction outside of Facebook (email, text, WhatsApp, etc.) so it is not covered by Facebook purchase protection.   If the seller asks to communicate or pay outside of FB, beware – especially if a transfer or wire is requested as those are irreversible.  
Fake/Counterfeit Items  The seller will list as item as designer but, it is a replica or counterfeit item.   If the price is too good to be true, i.e., a $1k purse for $300.  

If the image is a stock photo or you cannot see the tags/labels normally present on an authentic item, ask for “real time” photos to verify the authenticity.  

Paying in Advance  The seller says the item is stuck in customs, or some other urgent situation, and asks for fees or even payment in advance of sending the item.   Never agree to purchase any item if the seller still needs to collect the item themselves. Look for a sense of urgency as well.  
Defective or Not as Described  The seller lists a broken item as “in working condition”, or they include a stock photo of an item, only to swap it out for an item of lesser quality.   Make sure the seller has a return policy for defective/damaged items. If there’s only a stock photo, ask for a photo of the actual item.   
Fake Giveaways  Scammers post fake giveaways and try to get unsuspecting people to click on the links on the product listing, in their timeline, on their profiles.   Check the comments, if others click, they will say it’s a scam in the comments. If comments are not available or disabled do not open the link.  Ignore suspicious looking links – misspelled, unrelated link address, etc.  


Home Rental  Fake or misleading pictures of property, bait and switch rental pics and charging illegal fees  


Always tour the property in person -if it’s too far to drive then have the seller/owner send you a dated walk-thru video with them in it.  

Be cautious if they request that you transfer or wire money for deposit and/or payment as those cannot be reversed.  


Pricing/Payment Changes  The seller raises the price of an item after you indicate interest, saying someone else will get it unless you pay more.  

If the buyer overpays, it’s a scam to get you to send the difference before their fake payment is identified.  

As soon as there are inconsistencies in price, do not continue with the transaction.   

If the payment is greater than the price of the item, do not send the item until the funds/transaction is verified.  


Get Confirmation with PeopleFinders

If you ever find yourself involved in an online situation where any of the red flags above present themselves, you get a funny feeling, or you just want to verify the other person is who they say they are. You can easily give yourself peace of mind by going to PeopleFinders and using the online search function by name, phone number, address or email.

Maybe you caught the other party in a lie, or they are being mysterious in terms of background information or details they should easily know? PeopleFinders can verify the identity of the other party, so you can resume or discontinue your involvement/transaction based on actual data, not just intuition.

  • Scam Scenario 1: If the other party says they live in the Midwest, but you keep hearing tropical birds, PeopleFinders can verify the state they reside in when you search for them.
  • Scam Scenario 2: The business you are purchasing from says they are located in the US, but the customer service number looks to be from a foreign country, you can search the phone number using PeopleFinders to make sure it leads to a legitimate business.
  • Scam Scenario 3: You’ve really connected with someone through an online dating app, but they keep making excuses for why they can’t meet in person. PeopleFinders allows you to verify their name, location and contact information to make sure you are not being catfished or lured into a romance scam.

    woman talking with scammer online
    Maker sure to verify who you’re speaking with online!

Best Practices to Protect Yourself Against Scammers

  • Don’t click on links or download apps from someone you don’t know
  • Don’t log into an account from an email, text, or link
  • Use Two-Factor Authentication
  • Verify the identity and/or contact info of the other party with PeopleFinders
  • Only use approved, official payment methods of the App or Marketplace

By following the best practices in this article, you will be able to significantly reduce your exposure to online fraud, no matter how sophisticated the scam. Should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to any of the scams above, you can be confident in your ability to identify possible fraud and take the appropriate actions so that all your future online transactions are legitimate and fraud-free!

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