end of the worldMost people can remember at least one major apocalypse scare that happened during their lifetime, from the predicted chaos of Y2K to the more recent 2012 doomsday that sparked a Hollywood blockbuster and tons of Internet conspiracy theories. People love to talk about the end of the world, and as this trend has picked up steam in recent years, with it has come an increase of people trying to profit off of the general public’s fears. Scammers are everywhere, and you can bet they like to take advantage of whatever is getting people’s attention. While apocalypse scares come and go, scammers are here to stay, and it’s important for you to know how to prevent yourself or a close friend or family member from falling for one of them.

What do these scams look like?

These scams can take a variety of forms, but most often it boils down to people or organizations promoting the end of the world requesting donations or entities selling overpriced supplies to help you survive the apocalypse. More recently, televangelist Jim Bakker has caught national attention over his promotion of overpriced apocalypse survival kits, many of which come in giant buckets containing shelf-stable food as well as other survival items like shovels and glow sticks. Some of these kits cost upwards of $3,000, and while the buyer supposedly gets a good deal on food that will be good for 20+ years, in reality people who are buying these things are essentially being scammed.

While it could be argued that people purchasing items like apocalypse food buckets are at least getting something for their money (though how good it tastes is questionable), other scams are more insidious and designed to part people with their hard-earned money in exchange for peace of mind. Similar to charity scams, these often revolve around a cult or other group masquerading as a religious group that uses its influence to extract money from vulnerable people. Most people are unlikely to simply hand over money to someone who says the world is ending, but groups who couch it around things like faith might be persuasive enough.

How can I protect myself?

Prepare for disaster the smart way. Sorry, “Walking Dead” fans, but a zombie uprising is an unlikely scenario. However, there are things that could cause you and your family harm — natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other unexpected events. There is certainly nothing wrong with being prepared for an emergency, and you can learn about what your risks are depending on where you live as well as how to put together an effective emergency kit at the website ready.gov. Rather than spending your money buying products or protection from websites that may or may not be aiming to rip you off in the name of preparedness, create a list of basic supplies and shop smartly at stores you know and trust. Want to be more self-sustainable? Plant a garden to start growing your own food with seeds from your local nursery or home improvement store — no special seeds or mystery food buckets necessary!

Realize that older people are frequently the targets. While any person can be a target of an end of the world scam due to their nature of appealing to people’s worst fears, as with most types of scams, people in their 50’s and older are more likely to be targeted. If an older friend or relative mentions something about sending donations to an organization related to the apocalypse or purchasing preparation supplies, take some time to talk to them about who’s getting the money and whether it’s really a wise choice. If you can, find out the name or website they are using and do some research on your own. Some scammers may approach via email, which is almost always an indication that something isn’t quite right. Read this blog post to find out more about how to avoid email scams.

Be suspicious and think rationally. It can be easy to let your fears override your rational mind, but it’s important to keep a level head and do as much critical thinking as possible when you’re presented with worrisome information. The old adage that you can’t trust everything you read on the Internet holds a lot of truth. Realize that pretty much every doomsday group predicting the end of the world has either had to backtrack or change their prediction when the supposed apocalypse day came and went without fanfare. Depending on your beliefs, you might want to prepare yourself for theoretical disaster — just realize that nobody can truly know when or if something bad is going to happen. You can be prepared in case of an emergency without spending an arm and a leg in the process.

To learn more about the different kinds of scams lurking out in the world, follow our blog on the topic.