Recognize a Scam

avoid phone scamsThe number and types of scams are numerous and constantly changing.   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 them using a website you know is trustworthy.  Or look up their number on their official website.   Do not call a number they give you in a voicemail or the number from your caller ID.

Scammers say there is 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 saw 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 them what they need the information for, and if you can opt-out from providing that information.

Common Scams

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.  Search for the type of job they have to see if other people have heard similar stories, or 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 information on the internet.

Have I got a deal for you - If you get a telemarketing call, don’t make the purchase over the phone. Ask them to send you the information so you can review it. Get the company’s full name and address. Ask friends and family for advice. And never give out your credit card or financial information to strangers who call you!

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.

We’ll pay you to live in your house – If you’re over 62 and own your own home, you may be eligible for a “Reverse Mortgage.” Reverse mortgages are designed to allow senior homeowners to convert the equity in their home into income to supplement other sources of income. There are situations when a reverse mortgage may fit your needs, but you should proceed cautiously. As with any financial product, there can be significant costs and significant disadvantages. Check them out carefully, shop around, and make sure you understand all of the risks and conditions involved. You don’t want to buy a product that might not pay off for decades or could put your family on the street. If you are considering a reverse mortgage, consult with trusted resources, such as family, your attorney, and your financial advisor, before making any significant investment decision. A helpful guide on reverse mortgages is available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Additional Information

If you are the victim of a scam or believe you saw a scam attempt, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 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 Common Scams and Frauds