By Jocelyn Baird, NextAdvisor.com
Scammers are creative when it comes to devising schemes to try and steal your identity and money, and the BBB and the AARP have been warning consumers about such a scam lately regarding fake customer service surveys. These days, lots of businesses try to entice customers by offering gift cards, contest entries or discounts if they fill out a customer service survey after their purchase. Sometimes the survey can be accessed by following directions on your receipt, but other times the company collects your email and sends it to you later. The unfortunate thing about this type of setup is that it conditions us to follow links and give out our personal information in hope of getting something in return. How can you differentiate a legitimate survey from a fake?
1. Be suspicious of big rewards. Many of these customer service survey scams try to lure you in by offering a big reward and claiming you need to hurry up if you want to claim it. First, for the most part, legitimate customer service surveys will offer a certain percentage off -- usually under 20% -- if you log onto the store or restaurant's website after making a purchase and answer questions about your recent experience. If they do offer a large payout, like $100 or a free item that is normally expensive, it's usually in the form of a contest that you could win by filling out the survey, not a promise that you'll get a large amount of money if you answer the survey. Second, subject lines such as, "Hurry, your rewards points are about to expire!" are designed to get you to act without thinking. Don't fall for it. Take some time to read the email thoroughly with a skeptical eye.
2. Consider how long ago you shopped there. If you made a recent purchase within the past couple of weeks, an email from a retailer inquiring about your thoughts is understandable. However, if you can't remember the last time you shopped or dined there (or if you can't remember ever doing business with them), there's a likelihood the customer service survey email is not valid. Even if you did recently patronize the company, carefully read any emails or mailers you receive and keep your guard up. According to the AARP, surveys and the promise of compensation can lead people to lower their guard, but that's exactly what scammers are hoping for.
3. Don't give out sensitive information. No store or restaurant will ever require your credit card, bank account, social security or other personal data just to receive a prize. Never give this information out except in cases where you are 100% certain it's necessary -- it's especially crucial to protect your social security number. Fake customer service surveys can be used for a myriad of purposes by scammers; to steal your information, collect data about you to commit identity theft and even to install malware on your computer when you click on the link in your email. If something feels wrong, it's best to exit the website or delete the email and run a scan with your Internet security software to check for viruses.
4. Make sure the links are valid. Any email you receive should be regarded with caution if it isn't from someone you know and trust. Examine the email to ensure the graphics match up with those used by the company, and also be alert for spelling and grammar errors that might point to it being a fake. If you do decide to click a link, look at the URL and see if it matches up with the business' website. Many scammers choose lookalike links that seem at first glance to be correct but actually contain an almost imperceptible spelling error to trick you. You can also look up the URL on the WhoIs.net directory, which is something all domains are required to register with. If the URL is brand new or the ownership is hidden, you might be looking at a scam.
Scammers are smart, but you can be smarter by following these tips and others highlighted in our identity theft protection blog. Learn more about protecting your identity by reading our comprehensive reviews of identity theft protection services.
This blog post originally appeared on NextAdvisor.com.