How to Recognize and Avoid a Scam
Scammers are always coming up with new ways to steal your money or personal information. Always investigate fully before giving your money to a stranger or even someone claiming to be a family relative.
Scammers may pretend to be from an organization you know, like the IRS or Medicare. They may be able to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID so it looks real, or they may use a real-looking logo in an email.
Always verify you are speaking to a legitimate organization.
- Legitimate organizations won’t call, email or text to ask for your personal information like your social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
- Even if you get an email or a text message you think is real, avoid clicking on any links. Instead, contact the sender using a website you know is trustworthy, or look up the number on an official website. Do not call a number they give you in a voicemail or the number from your caller ID.
Scammers try to reel victims in with a problem or a prize. They may say you’re in trouble with a government agency, or you owe money, or that someone in your family had an emergency and they need you to verify some information. They may say you have won money in a lottery or sweepstakes, but you have to pay a fee to get it. They will likely pressure you to act immediately, telling you not to hang up so you can’t check out their story. They may threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s license, or say your computer is about to be corrupted.
Resist the pressure to act immediately.
- Legitimate businesses will give you time to make a decision.
- Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.
- Ask for a supervisor’s name and call back number. Chances are a scammer won’t want to provide you with that information. If they can’t give you a local number or address, hang up.
Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way. They may insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back.
Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. Never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
Stop and talk to someone you trust.
- Before you do anything else, tell someone – a friend, a family member, a neighbor – what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
If you were scammed or think you recognized a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
Always be cautious when you are asked for personal information, whether it be by phone, email, or in person. Never provide personal information when you did not initiate the conversation. A good rule of thumb is to ask what the information is needed for, and if you can opt-out from providing that information.
Here are some examples of common scams:
Dating and Romance – You meet someone online and you have a great rapport. You provide personal details getting to know them better and then they ask for money to help cover costs associated with illness, injury, travel or a family crisis. Never send money or gifts to a person you haven’t met in person. If you suspect a scam, stop communicating with the person immediately. Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t add up.
Grandma I’m in Jail – You get a phone call from someone saying, “This is your grandson, I’m traveling, and I’ve been arrested. Help, I need $500 for bail. Go to Walmart and send the money to the following….” Don’t panic. First, ask questions to determine if it really is your grandchild. If they called you “Grandma” don’t say “Is this Michael?” Ask, “Who is this?” Ask him the name of his parents. Check with your son or daughter to find out if your grandchild is even traveling. Ask where the child is being held and confirm the location exists.
You’ve Won - If someone calls and says you’ve won a prize or a lottery, and all you need to do is pay the taxes or shipping and handling, don’t believe it. You shouldn’t have to pay money to receive something you’ve legitimately won. Ask for details in writing and check it out carefully. Never give out your credit card or financial information to strangers who call you.
Computer Scan Alert - You get a pop-up on your computer that looks like it might be from your operating system or antivirus software saying suspicious activity has been detected and to call a live technician now. Do not call the phone number. Real security warnings will never ask you to call a phone number. Do not click on any links in the pop-up or browser window. Instead, hit Control + Alt + Delete (Command + Option/Alt + Esc on a Mac) to view a list of programs currently running and delete the pop-up alert from the list of running programs.
If you are the victim of a scam or believe you saw a scam attempt, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or call 877-382-4357.
For additional information, visit the following pages:
- California Office of the Attorney General: Common Scams
- Federal Trade Commission: How to Avoid a Scam
- USA.gov: Common Scams and Frauds