The best way to avoid a scam is to recognize common scam techniques. Scammers primarily are trying to get your money. They either ask you to pay them, reveal personal information, or provide them with access to your computer.
You'll know it’s a scam if:
- You’re told you or someone you love is in trouble with the law. Scammers often impersonate police or government officials to gain our trust. Scammers may pose as a relative (for example, a grown child or grandchild) and ask you to send bail money to free them from jail. Other scammers may threaten you with arrest. They may say you have to pay a fine because your Social Security number was used in a crime or because you missed a court date or jury duty. Real police never make these sorts of calls.
- You’re asked to pay quickly, in a way that’s hard to trace. Scammers rush people into paying –and they prefer payment methods that are hard to trace or tough to reverse. Scammers will take money any way they can get it, but they favor Bitcoin, gift cards, money wires and mailed cash. Legitimate government agencies and utilities do not accept these forms of payment. Recently, scammers have asked victims to pay using mobile payment apps. Never pay in response to an upsetting call or text –and if someone offers to send a courier to your home to pick up cash, call your local police.
- You're asked to give someone access to your computer or mobile device. Giving scammers access to your computer can allow them to access your private accounts, manipulate the screens you see, or use your computer to scam others. Always remember that banks and other companies process accounts in their own systems. They never need access to your device to do their jobs.
- You’re told to lie. Legitimate police or companies will never tell you to keep secrets or lie about what you're up to. Only scammers do that. Hang up on anyone who tells you to lie to your bank, a store clerk or family.
- You’re told there are problems with one of your accounts. Scammers know that when we’re panicked, it impacts our ability to think clearly. So they design scams to make us worry –and then hit us up for money or personal information. For example, they may claim there’s a large “charge pending” against your account. They say you or a relative is in trouble with the law. Or they say your utilities will be shut off unless you make an immediate payment.
- You're told you've won a refund, a prize or a shot at a can't-miss investment. Scammers also design scams to make you feel lucky or loved. They say they want to give you a refund or discount on your bills. They say you’ve won a lottery or government grant.
- Someone flirts with you online, then asks for money. Or they strike up online friendships or romances with you then ask you to send money or invest through them.
Protect Yourself from Scams
Ignore unexpected calls and texts
- Use Caller ID to screen calls. (You can buy landline phones that come equipped with free caller ID.)
- Recognize that scammers "spoof" Caller ID numbers to pretend to be a company or agency you might trust.
- Don't answer or return calls marked as "scam risk" or "scam likely."
- Ignore any call or text that threatens you with arrest, legal action or fines.
- Don’t respond to texts or calls from unknown numbers. (If your mobile service provides it, enable your mobile settings to put all texts from unknown senders into a separate queue.)
- Never click on texted links you aren’t expecting. Scam links can install malware on your device or lead you to spoofed (look-alike) sites designed to collect account info
Stay calm and refuse to be rushed
- Don’t be pushed into quick action. When we’re upset or rushed, it’s hard for us to use our reasoning skills. Many scam victims tell us that it was only after they paid, they realized the information a scammer gave them didn’t make sense
- Hang up and give yourself time to think. Scammers often try to keep you on the phone to prevent you from independently verifying information
- Hang up if someone demands immediate payment, threatens you with arrest, tells you to keep a secret, or coaches to you lie to anyone about what you're doing.
Keep your money and private info secure
- Treat any unexpected demand for immediate payment as a scam.
- Don’t believe calls threatening you with arrest or claiming a relative needs bail.
- Be wary of online “friends” who ask for money or offering you a chance to invest.
- Never share Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords with people who contact you unexpectedly.
Verify information independently before you act
- If you’re worried about an account, check your account online using a verified site or by calling the customer service number on your bill. (Do not use links or numbers that scammers provide you.)
- If you're worried a loved one is in jail, try texting the relative or calling other family members. Or call your local police. They're aware of arrest scams.
- If someone you met online asks you for money (even for an investment), contact Scam Squad at 216-443-7226.
- Caller ID numbers can be spoofed to look like real numbers. You can verify a call is real by "googling" the number that shows on your Caller ID.