How to Spot an Expat Scam


Until you get used to living in your adoptive country, you’ll be bombarded with new information every day: new social rules, customs, and laws. Even more, there are high chances you’ll experience culture shock as well! But these things are normal, and everyone that moves to a new country experiences them.

Rest assured that this is just a new stage in your life. You’ll be just fine after a while, no matter how hard things might seem at the moment. Unfortunately, when you’re at this stage, you’re also the most vulnerable. That’s why recognizing expat scams is an important part of learning how to stay safe online.

How Do You Spot a Scam?

Some websites or emails are so poorly made that you can tell right away they shouldn’t be trusted:

  • They have grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • They use vague subject lines instead of personalized ones (Hey dear, Hello there, Nice to meet you, my friend).
  • They use HTTP instead of HTTPS.
  • The website’s design is bad and the colors are too bright, too flickery, and just too much for the eyes.

However, many fraudsters try their hardest to hide the fact that they’re running online scams. As a result, even new websites might look legit.

Here’s a list of 5 important red flags that give them away right from the start.

1. They Sound Big but Their Name Has a Twist

Just a few examples to illustrate this idea better:

  • Amaz0n instead of Amazon
  • Pingsonic instead of Panasonic
  • The PETA instead PETA

Scammers tend to mimic big names.

If you’re not sure about how the brand’s name is spelled, or if you heard it just a few times, there are high chances you don’t recognize the correct spelling right away. So, scammers will use a similar name to trick you into thinking their brand is legit.

2. It’s Too Good to Be True

Trusting your intuition can be one of the greatest tools in detecting online scams. You know something’s wrong when you’re bombarded with aggressive ads about:

  • Time-limited offers (you buy 1 item and receive 5 more).
  • Incredible prices for luxury items.
  • Clearance sales with discounts that go up to 80% or 90%.
  • A holiday that’s way cheaper than you’d expect (for example – 1 week in Switzerland, all-inclusive, for $100).

As a rule of thumb, when the quality-price ratio is unbalanced, it means something’s off.

If you were to buy from these websites, you’d find yourself in situations like:

  • The products never arrive or don’t exist.
  • You get charged extra and if you notice it too late you can’t file a chargeback.
  • The products arrive but they are totally different from what you’ve seen online.
  • Luxury items are delivered in cheap, non-branded boxes without a certificate of authenticity.

3. They Put Pressure on You

Scammers pressure you into buying something impulsively or giving them a large sum of money. You might also receive messages that you’ve won a great prize, but you need to pay a fee (and quite a pricey one) to claim it.

Often, while pressuring you to make a decision, their tone will also get more aggressive. They might say things like:

  • Oh, you might think I’m a scammer? You clearly know nothing about scams!
  • Don’t use that website, click this link, it’s safer this way! 
  • Give me money or I’ll never talk to you again! 

When they ask for money, fraudsters prefer a non-secure payment method like:

  • Cryptocurrency
  • Money orders
  • Wire money
  • Pre-loaded gift cards

In other cases, they might even threaten you with prison, lawyers, deportation, or arrest.

If this happens to you, hang up the phone as soon as possible and report the phone number or the email to the local authorities.

4. They Ask for Your Private Data

Your bank will never ask you to verify your identity over an email or the phone, out of nowhere. Similarly, the IRS will never call you or email you to say you owe them money.

Although these are serious scenarios, you shouldn’t feel rushed just by the gravity of the situation. The IRS has only 2 ways to contact you: either in person or by post mail.

Besides, you can always close the phone if this happens to you, and call the official institutions back. This way, you can make sure you’re calling a valid phone number that appears on their official websites and you can talk with them about what happened to you.

5. They Make Excuses Way too Often

This applies to any situation that requires you to be physically present like:

  • Meeting with someone from online dating apps
  • Meeting with a potential landlord to view an apartment
  • Meeting with a real estate agent to see some apartments before making a deposit

If they’re too busy to meet with you in person but they respond fast online, it means that you’re dealing with a scammer.

The Importance of Spotting a Scam

As the world is changing and evolving every day, so do scammers, sadly.

While some online frauds can be spotted right away, other malicious websites or ads might look legit. The FBI reported that Americans lost up to $60 million to phishing scams alone in 2019.

Prevention is always better than dealing with legal problems, so researching and recognizing online red flags will make the internet a safer place for you.

And not just this, but sharing information with your friends and family will raise awareness against fraud too. Who knows, in some cases, talking with someone about online scams might even save them money!

Do you have any other tips on how to stay safe on the internet? Or maybe you’ve spotted online scams that seem legit at first glance? Share your experience in the comments section and let’s help each other feel safer on the internet!

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