One of the easiest ways to steer clear of scams and fraud is to keep one question in mind: who initiated contact?
Let’s look at the classic lottery or sweepstakes scam. When you play the real, legitimate lottery, you initiate contact by purchasing a ticket. If you’re entering a sweepstakes or drawing, you have to take some initial action to be entered. However, when someone is running a lottery or sweepstakes scam, they will contact you. Out of the blue, you will be informed, usually through email, that you have won some fabulous prize or cash payout you didn’t even know you were in the running for. From there, they will either attempt to get you to wire money to cover taxes or fees, or send you a check to cash and wire back to them (the check will later turn out to be counterfeit, leaving you on the hook). You should never have to pay up front to claim any real prize, but by keeping “who initiated contact?” in mind, it won’t even get that far to begin with. You’ll know right away.
Getting a job works the same way. When you need work, you are the one who must go out and look for it, either by networking with people you already know, or by searching classifieds and websites. If you get an email offering you a job you did not apply for, however, be extremely suspicious. Keep in mind that there are also fraudulent jobs posted on employment websites, and the “who initiated contact?” rule would not apply, since you would be the one applying. In those cases, you have to do some research to make sure the job is legit.
Home repairs usually start when you notice something wrong with your house, then you call a local contractor to perform the work. A lot of home repair scams, in which the victim either ends up paying in advance for repairs that never happen, or for wildly substandard work, often begin with someone knocking on your door to inform you of an issue they “noticed” while driving by, and they just happen to own a company that specializes in that exact kind of work. Driveway, roofing, and furnace repair are some of the most common, but this type of fraud takes many forms. Be especially wary of unsolicited offers right after a major weather event that caused damage.