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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When It Comes to Recognizing ‘Scams and Shams,’ Google Is Your Friend

In real estate, as in the rest of life, scams and shams are common, and every now and then I read another article or attend another presentation on the topic of scams, shams, and identify theft.

There are some basic rules you can follow to avoid becoming a victim of these practices, but I have never once heard a speaker give the simplest advice of all, which is to use Google (or another search engine) when something sounds too good or too bad to be true.

Remember these two things when it comes to such contacts: 1) Successful scams are confidence schemes, in that they create a context of believability; 2) Other people were probably victimized before you and probably wrote about it online.  So, you can Google it.
Confidence-building takes several forms. One of them is to spoof a phone number. If it’s someone claiming to be from the IRS,  your Caller ID may display a Washington DC area code (202), but they are more likely calling from a foreign country. 
If scammers reach out to you by email, they can spoof their email address as well as any link that is contained in their email. A link might display as, for example, but if you float your cursor over it, it will reveal a completely different web address.  Also, anyone can right-click a logo or other elements from a legitimate company’s website and insert it in an email to make it look like it’s from the company.
I suggest Googling the phone number of a suspicious caller, or the name of a roofing company or other vendor, and you may be surprised to see that someone has already written online about that party being a scammer or disreputable vendor. You can also Google words or phrases to check whether something is true.
Especially in the political arena, you may be tempted to forward to all your contacts an email you receive claiming something horrendous about a politician — maybe you recall last fall’s claim of a child prostitution ring being run out of a pizza parlor by Hillary. You can avoid the embarrassment of forwarding such a hoax simply by Googling the key words and seeing what comes up. When you receive such an email from a friend who didn’t verify it before passing it on to all their contacts, do society a favor and “Reply All” with the results of your research.
By the way, you don’t have to go to to do a Google search. Simply type a word or phrase into the address line of your browser, and it will trigger a web search if what you typed is not a valid web address. It’s so easy that it’s a shame not to do it!
We all know what a “scam” is, but from reading the headline above, you may be wondering what a “sham” is. I hadn’t heard the term myself until it was used by the speaker at last week’s Rotary Club of Golden meeting, who spoke on this subject. A “sham” is like a scam except that it’s not a crime. An example of that is the company which routinely sends every new homeowner a letter offering to provide a copy of the deed to their home for $85. (You are shown the deed at closing, but it is not sent to you until after it has been recorded by the county clerk & recorder.) Because that company does what it promised — send you a copy of your deed — it’s not a scam.  It’s a sham. 

Published May 18, 2017, in the Denver Post's YourHub section and in four Jefferson County weekly newspapers.

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