Practical tips to help you spot and steer clear of the most common scams
Roseville, Calif.- Overwhelmed by all the scam calls, emails and pop-up offers? Welcome to the club. Fraud is a thriving industry-the Federal Trade Commission received loss reports totaling $5.8 billion dollars last year.
With help from Consumer Reports, here are some of the most common types of scams, and how to avoid them.
You owe us money!
“This is the [fill in the blank: IRS, Social Security, ABC Bank, XYZ Police department] and we’ve been trying to reach you about a [fill in the blank: warrant for your arrest, cancellation of your Social Security, freezing of your bank account.] Call us immediately!” If you talk to them, they’ll pressure you to pay immediately to prevent terrible things from happening. They’ll ask you to pay by unconventional means, like buying gift cards and reading the card numbers to them over the phone.
NOPE: Government agencies never call consumers about money owed or threaten arrest. No legitimate business asks for payment in gift cards-ever. Just hang up.
What a great deal!
You’re scrolling through Facebook or Insta and you see an ad for something you want. You’ve never heard of the company, and you can’t find their address, phone number or refund policy, but the price is amazing, so why not? You pay with your credit card or Venmo…and the merchandise never arrives, or when it does it’s poor quality or some cheap thing you didn’t order.
NOPE: Don’t click on links in ads. If you’re shopping online, go to known, reputable businesses. You may not get “amazing deals” but you’re more likely to get the merchandise you paid for. Always pay for online purchases with your credit card-if you get defrauded, you can contact your credit card company to dispute the charge and potentially get a refund.
What a great job!
Scammers prey on job-hunters, and they even post fraudulent jobs in popular job-hunting sites. Red flags include an employer sending you a large check up front, then claiming they overpaid you and asking you to refund a portion of it (their check will bounce); or asking you to pay them for work-related equipment and supplies. The actual job never materializes.
NOPE: Hiring applications shouldn’t ask for social security numbers or bank account information. Employers should never ask you to pay for training or work supplies or ask for refunds of checks they sent you. If you gave up this information, call your bank immediately to flag or freeze the account, and take immediate steps to prevent identity theft (here’s a link to the FTC for more information.) Be wary of “work from home,” “mystery shopper” and shipping/warehouse job offers. Look up the company online and check out their job page to make sure the job is legit.
What a great investment opportunity!
You get a call from an investment adviser or even an acquaintance with a can’t miss investment opportunity. You’re going to get so rich! But you must act now, and you’ll pay with an unconventional method like wire transfers, gift cards, a Venmo account or cryptocurrency.
NOPE: Anytime you’re rushed into a decision, promised huge returns, or asked to buy in via unconventional, untraceable methods, stop. You can check out whether investment advisors are properly licensed or have a history of disciplinary actions on the Security Exchange Commission’s investor.gov website. You can check out brokers at BrokerCheck.finra.org.
You get a text, email or call telling you you’ve won a sweepstakes, lottery, gift card or iPad. The only catch is that you have to pay a small handling or administrative fee. They might even ask for your credit card or bank account number to pay the fees and transfer your winnings.
NOPE: Legitimate government lotteries or the Publisher’s Clearing House won’t ask for administrative fees or your account information. If you’ve fallen for this one, contact your bank and report the loss to the FTC immediately.
You’ve probably noticed similar tactics among all these scams. Their cover stories will change, but their methods won’t.
Common Red Flags
- Offering something that’s too good to be true.
- Applying pressure, talking fast, threatening and rushing you into a decision. Scammers don’t want you to have time to think about what they’re saying, or time to talk to a trusted friend.
- Asking for sensitive personal information, like your social security number or bank account information.
- Asking for payment by unconventional, untraceable methods, like gift cards or wire transfers.
Arm yourself with information and a big dose of healthy skepticism, and you can protect yourself from even the cleverest scammers.