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Opinion: Scam watch: Learn to spot leverage techniques

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When writing about internet scams, I sometimes feel like a nature documentary narrator.

The scammer is cunning. The scammer will stop at nothing to snare its prey. The scammer awaits, ready to pounce.

You get the idea. Here’s another one: The scammer will use leverage, one of their greatest tools, to accomplish their scheme.

If you think about it, leverage is at the center of most scams, if not all of them.

A scammer purporting to be with a federal agency, for example, will use time as leverage. You have 24 hours to act, or you will be penalized, something to that effect.

The goal is to catch the consumer off guard, to trick them into playing along for their purposes.

Learning to identify leverage techniques can be a valuable tool for a consumer.

Recently, I was told about a scam on TikTok that reminded me just how important this is. Let’s see if you can spot the leverage technique as I explain the scam.

A TikTok influencer pops up as you’re perusing videos on the app. They claim to just have been fired from their job for a somewhat silly reason: Their cat was in frame in a Zoom call or they were puffing on an electric cigarette and thought the camera was off.

They’re upset for being fired, so they’re seeking revenge. They offer the viewer a coupon for the online store from the company they say they worked for. You get tons of merchandise for free, and you only pay shipping. The influencer wins because they are getting revenge on their employer, and the user wins because they’re getting a great deal.

Only, the product comes and the quality is poor, or perhaps it doesn’t get shipped at all.

Uh-oh, looks like you just got scammed.

Did you spot the leverage?

Time is an element. The employer is going to figure out that the fired employee is giving out great discounts and cancel the code, the consumer might infer. Losing out on the deal means FOMO – fear of missing out – because of how inexpensive it seems.

There’s an emotional appeal, too. Being fired is a traumatic event, and you as a consumer are helping the influencer feel better and stick it to the man, all with one purchase.

The purpose of me bringing this up is not to embarrass anyone or make someone feel bad for falling for a scam. It happens. Scammers are good at this.

Rather, I write on this topic to give you the tools you need to avoid being scammed in the first place.

While scammers are prevalent, so too are resources that can help consumers wbe more alert. One of those is the Better Business Bureau, a consumer watchdog nonprofit that has a recent blog post on this very topic with some great tips.

In the post called, “Be alert when shopping on TikTok,” BBB officials say purchases through it and other social media websites are rising.

They have some best practices before spending your money:
• Avoid impulse buys. Again, time and special offers are great leverage tools for scammers.
• Research the seller. Go beyond their website to look for opinions. See if anything pops up on Google when you type in the company’s name and the word “scam.”
• Look into the company’s return policy and keep records of what you find.
• Act quickly if you’re unhappy with your purchase. TikTok can even be directly contacted if a scam is suspected.
• Use a credit card. Fraudulent purchases are easier to cancel than those made with a debit card.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding and combatting scams. They change constantly, and they come out in new forms and on new technology platforms.

An adage that’s a bit tired but is always useful in these situations is this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In other words, follow your gut instincts. The scammer is cunning and will seek to bypass those instincts. Don’t let them.

Springfield Business Journal Digital Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.

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