One Simple Test to Detect a Scam

Online Fraud Prevention Techniques

There are a lot of ways to detect online scams. You can try to learn about lots of different schemes and memorize the details of each one, sort of a mental “if someone says THIS, then THIS is what they’re trying to get from me” list of rules. And that works to a point, except it takes a lot of work and sometimes scammers change up their methods just enough to throw you off.

You can use ideas like, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.” That also works. But a lot of people have a high threshold for what they consider “too good to be true.” What sets off one person’s suspicions might seem perfectly reasonable to another.

My favorite method of online scam prevention is a thought experiment of sorts: how would this sound if a stranger was saying it to me on the street?

Imagine an In-Person Approach

Artist Scammer

Let’s say you were just sitting on a bench at a public park one day. Some slick-looking dude with a few generic pieces of printed-out “digital art” runs up to you. “I am an artist and you have inspired me,” he announces. “I am going to pay you to be the subject of a commissioned piece for a wealthy client. By the way, that client is going to give you ALL of the money, and then you will send most of it to me through PayPal. Friends and Family, of course.” It would seem a little off, to say the least. You’d probably try to get away from this weirdo as quickly as possible.

Advance Fee Fraud

After your run-in with Art Guy, you leave the park and head down the sidewalk. Yet another stranger approaches you. He says, “I’m extremely rich but I also have a terminal illness, and I want to give my money away to deserving people. You are obviously a very good person, and so I’m going to give you thirty million United States Dollars. To claim your money, kindly wire $7,500 to this other person to cover fees.” Would you believe a word of it?

Extended Warranty

After you escape from the moribund millionaire, you finally reach your car. Just before you open the door, someone pops out from behind a bush. “Excuse me! I have been trying to reach you concerning your vehicle’s extended warranty!” they shout as you hurry to get in the car and lock the doors.


Having evaded these very strange people, you finally arrive at home. “Customer! CUSTOMER!” a man in a shabby suit hollers from across the street as you exit your vehicle. “Your card at our financial institution has been suspended due to suspicious activity! Please provide your card number, username and password or your account will be closed in 24 hours!” Would you give him what he asked for?