How To Identify A Scam

09, October, 2023

You’ve probably experienced it: a strange phone call claiming to be from the IRS, a notice you’re late on a bill you’re sure you paid, or a congratulations for winning a sweepstakes you never entered. These are all examples of scams – and we want to help you identify them.

What is a scam?

A scam is any deceptive act that attempts to steal your money or sensitive information. Scammers often pose as an institution or individual you know, like a financial company or a friend or family member, to convince you to send them cash or perform an action that lets them access your personal data.

What is a phishing attack?

Phishing attacks are one of the most common scam methods. With a phishing attack, scammers will pretend to be a person or organization who the victim trusts using a fraudulent email, text, phone call, or website. They’ll try to trick their target into downloading malware, sharing sensitive information, or otherwise exposing themselves to cybercrimes.

Man sitting at desk identifies a scam on his computer.

Victims of cybercrimes may experience identity theft, credit card fraud, ransomware, and financial losses.

How to tell if someone is scamming you online

Now you’re probably asking yourself: how do I avoid a scam? It’s not difficult once you know these four red flags.

1. Scammers will say they are someone important.

The scammer will pretend to be a real organization or someone you’d trust, like the Social Security Administration, or make up an official-sounding acronym or name.

2. Scammers will say you won a prize or are in trouble.

The scammer’s message is likely to be extreme, saying you owe money, that there’s an emergency, or that you’ve won a sweepstakes or lottery.

3. Scammers will tell you to act – now.

Given their message, the scammer won’t let you wait. They’ll tell you the situation is urgent, and you need to do what they say right away.

4. Scammers will ask for a very specific payment method.

Offers to provide cash later or call back aren’t useful for scammers. They will ask for a wire transfer, peer-to-peer payment, gift card code, or other form of immediate money transfer.

How to spot a phishing email

Our four scammer signs also apply to phishing attacks. These are common tactics scammers will use in an email scam:

  • Claiming there’s a problem with your account or payment information
  • Saying there’s been suspicious account activity or log-in attempts
  • Asking you to confirm personal or financial information
  • Including an unknown invoice
  • Wanting you to click a link to make a payment
  • Saying you’re eligible to register for a government refund
  • Offering a coupon for free stuff

Details that indicate these messages are fake include a general email greeting, misspellings or grammar mistakes, and email addresses that don’t match the organization’s official address. You should also avoid clicking links in suspicious emails, as these may send you to fraudulent websites.

Identify scam phone calls and text messages

Emails and websites aren’t the only methods scammers use. Phone calls and text messages are home to similar scams with different details to watch out for.

1. Scam calls will come from unknown numbers.

If you don’t know the number, don’t answer. Even if the caller ID is from a local area or familiar organization, scammers can spoof numbers to appear trustworthy.

2. Scam calls will ask you to do something.

If you answer the call and are asked to answer a question or hit a button, hang up. Scammers use simple “Yes or No” questions to gather valuable data, and hitting a button to stop getting calls identifies a potential victim.

3. Scam calls will sound important.

Family members and government agencies are common scammer disguises. Before you do anything, hang up and call your loved one if identified as such – and know that institutions with your private data will usually provide a written statement before a phone call.

4. Scam calls will pressure you to act.

You’ll hear you owe the scammer money. Or that your loved one needs help now. But these statements are just giving you a sense of urgency so you don’t think about the request. Don’t give in to their demands.

How to stop scam calls

To avoid scam calls, register your number with the National Do Not Call Registry. Legitimate telemarketers will avoid calling numbers on the list. You should also use call blocking tools and password-protected voicemail to help block unwanted calls.

How to report a scam

Different scam methods have different methods of reporting.

  • Phishing emails should be forwarded to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at [email protected]. If you received the phishing email through a work email, report it so your company’s IT team remains aware of active threats.
  • Phishing text messages should be forwarded to SPAM (7726).
  • Phishing phone calls should be reported to your robocall-blocking technology to help the company block the number from reaching you or other people.

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a scam, it’s critical to act urgently to minimize any financial damage.

  • Report the crime to your local police or sheriff’s office and state attorney general
  • Contact your bank and credit card companies to cancel any cards exposed to the scam
  • Reach out to the credit bureaus to freeze your credit and place a fraud alert on your credit reports
  • Change your online passwords to prevent scammers from accessing your accounts