Recognizing and Avoiding Scams
Defend yourself against scammers by learning to recognize red flags.
Con artists cheat Americans out of billions of dollars every year. Recognizing red flags for potential scams can help protect you, your loved ones, and your hard earned cash.
Phishing is when scammers pretend to be someone that they aren’t to gather sensitive information or access to a person’s funds through a credit card or bank account. Phishing can take many forms, including emails, texts, and even fake websites. Often, you’ll get an email or text informing you that there’s been a problem with your account or offering you a great deal from a company you know and trust.
Do not click on these links or enter your information. Navigate to a separate browser or even use a different device to go to the official website and review your account or check out the offer. Do not enter any of your information into a pop up or when prompted by an email.
Illustration: Chelsea Miller
Similar to phishing, scammers can also try to intimidate you into paying them by pretending to be a person in power. That could mean impersonating someone from the IRS, a debt collector, or anyone who demands you pay them immediately.
The IRS will never call you and ask you to pay. If you get a call claiming someone is from the IRS, hang up, and reach out to an official IRS channel to confirm if there is really a problem. You can find ways to contact the IRS at IRS.gov. When it comes to debt collection, you don’t have to take the person at their word either. You can research the collector and send a Debt Validation Letter.
Scammers try to intimidate you by creating a sense of fear and urgency, so that you’ll pay them or give them information before you have the chance to really think it through. If you ever get a call that does that, be suspicious.
Scams Targeting Seniors
Unfortunately, seniors are often the group targeted most aggressively by scammers. This means that they need to be extra cautious when answering the phone or browsing the internet and vigilant about keeping their information and money protected. One tactic that scammers can use is to claim to be or represent a family member or loved one that’s in trouble and needs money for an emergency. Seniors and anyone else who receives a call or email like this should always confirm the legitimacy of the cry for help before doing anything.
Malware or Ransomware
Some scams will install malware or ransomware on your device if you click on a link. That means that your device could be infected with a virus that steals your information or forces you to pay in order to get access to your files again. These links can come from popups, ads, posts on social media, emails, or even messages from the accounts of friends or family that have been hacked.
You should always be wary of clicking on any link that someone sends you unprompted, particularly if they use extremely generic language or don’t sound like themselves. If you do click on such a link and fear your device has been infected, you should have your antivirus software run a scan immediately and take any actions it suggests.
Affinity fraud occurs when a dishonest person plays on someone’s affiliation with a group, such as a religious congregation, alumni association, support group, or social club, as a way to win his or her confidence. The goal is usually selling something, convincing someone to make a fake or inappropriate investment, or tricking a victim into handing over important information. The scammer may be an actual member of the group (even someone the intended victim knows or likes) or just pretend to be.
No matter who the person on the other end of the line is or claims to be, you should always be weary before giving them money or information. If they claim to represent the group and you want to support them, it’s often best to do so through official channels like their website to ensure that the money gets to the people you want to help rather than a scammer.
When You Encounter a Scammer
If you’re contacted by a scammer, the best thing you can do is simply ignore them—don’t answer their calls, delete their emails, and navigate away from a sketchy looking site. You should never give anyone information or send them money until you are sure that they are legitimate. If you’ve been contacted by a scammer, you can also report them to the FTC to help stop them from reaching out to you or others.
If you’ve sent money to someone you believe is a scammer, it’s best to act as soon as possible. Cancel the card, call your bank or credit union to inform them you believe your account information has been stolen, or reach out to an administrator or help line for the account. If the scammer has your sensitive information, such as your social security number, this site from the FTC can help you know what to do next.
Scammers are constantly changing and refining their attempts to take your money or information, to learn more about the recent scams that have been reported and to see more tips for keeping yourself safe, you can visit the FTC’s website.
While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.
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