The best way to avoid a scam is to recognize some of the techniques scammers commonly use.
You know it’s a scam if:
- You’re told you or someone you love is in trouble.
Scammers know that if they impersonate police or government officials, we may trust them. To get you to pay them, these bogus officials threaten you with arrest or seizure of your accounts or benefits. Some scammers may impersonate a relative, for example, a grandchild, and hit you up for bail money after a car accident.
- You’re asked to pay in a way that’s hard to trace.
Scammers prefer payment methods that are hard to trace or tough to reverse. All unexpected requests for payments should be viewed as scams, but these payment methods are scammer favorites: Bitcoin, gift cards, money wires and mailed cash. Legitimate government agencies and utilities do not accept these forms of payments. Scammers are also beginning to lure people to pay on mobile payment apps.
- You’re told to lie or keep secrets.
Scammers don’t want you to tell others about what’s happening because they worry someone will tell you it’s a scam. It’s always a scam if someone tells you to lie to your bank about the reason you’re withdrawing money; lie to a store clerk about why you’re buying gift cards or sending a money wire, or keep information secret from your family and friends.
- You’re told you have a problem or have won a prize.
Scammers know that when we’re highly emotional, we’re less likely to think rationally and recognize we’re dealing with a scammer. Here are some examples of common scams designed to panic or excite you: You’re told there’s a large “charge pending” against your account; you’re told you’ve won a lottery or government grant; you get an unexpected text or call telling you there’s a refund or reward pending on your account; an impostor calls to say your utilities will be shut off unless you make an immediate payment.
How to protect yourself:
- Ignore unexpected calls and texts
- Don’t call or text back unknown numbers. Be wary of spoofed numbers.
- Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t know. Use Caller ID and voicemail to screen your calls. Block spam texts.
- Never click on texted links you aren’t expecting. Some lead to spoof (or look-alike) sites designed to collect your account info and passwords.
- Ignore any call or text that threatens you with arrest, lawsuit or fines.
- 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.)
- Disengage and give yourself time to think. Scammers try to monopolize your attention or keep you on the phone to keep you from trying to verify information.
- Hang up if someone demands immediate payment, threatens you with arrest or tells you to keep secrets.
- Keep your money and private info in the vault
- Treat any unexpected demand for immediate payment as a scam.
- Don’t believe calls threatening you with arrest.
- Be wary of “friends” seeking money or offering investments through social media sites.
- Never share Social Security numbers, account numbers and passwords with people who contact you unexpectedly.
- Verify information independently before you act
- Never use numbers that unknown callers provide you to verify information.
- If you’re worried about an account, check your account activity online using a verified site or by calling the customer service number on your bill. (Do not use texted links.)
- If you’re worried a relative is in trouble, contact other family members to get the truth.
- You can always call Scam Squad or local police if you get a worrying call or text.
Read more scam alerts from the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs
Contact Scam Squad
To refer clients or request materials:
Tip Sheets and Consumer Handouts