Today, you can encounter a scam in countless ways. Some are prevalent throughout the year, while others may escalate in numbers during specific periods. For instance, sweepstakes, lottery, tech support, and romance scams can crop up any time of the year when you least expect them. But online shopping fraud is mostly rampant during holidays such as Christmas. Charity scams typically follow hurricanes and floods, while tax filing season is a busy time for tax scammers.
Many of these frauds impersonate well-known organizations, from the IRS and banks to retailers and charities. They could even pose as a friend or a close colleague. So, how can you identify a fraudulent scheme and protect yourself from falling prey? Here are six red flags that could give away a scammer.
1. Unexpected Calls and Messages
If a call or a message from a specific organization or individual takes you by surprise, tread with caution.
For example, a caller could announce that you have won a large amount of money when you don’t even remember entering a lottery, sweepstake, or competition. Similarly, a call from the IRS may demand overdue taxes. But if you have already paid your dues, it is important to consider the likelihood of it being a scam.
In these instances, do not engage in further conversation until you verify the caller’s identity. Take down their contact number and name, and tell them you will call them back. Then look for their phone number on PhoneHistory to confirm details. Search for the organization’s official contact details on its website so you can directly verify the call’s authenticity.
Another essential step to avoid scammers is downloading a caller ID app such as Showcaller. They can help identify millions of numbers and even alert you to spam and scam callers based on their user-generated spam databases. You can also use these apps to block unwanted callers, record phone calls, and save call logs.
2. Conflicting Storylines
Despite their elaborate schemes, there are many times scammers could slip with their storylines. After all, staying in character can be challenging, even for professional actors.
If you pay close attention, you can quickly identify conflicting information in their narrative. It is the easiest way to recognize romance scams and similar frauds, where fraudsters often come up with intricate details to win their victim’s trust.
If you detect any discrepancies, don’t hesitate to probe further. Let them know you have noticed contradicting messages or information, and carefully observe how they react and respond. Do they suddenly seem nervous, anxious, or disinterested in conversing with you? Do they look uncomfortable? Are they trying to avoid certain questions?
Keep your emotions aside and use your instinct and best judgment to determine whether you are ready to accept what they say. When you openly express your doubts or suspicions, a scammer will typically withdraw and move on in search of their next victim.
3. Undue Urgency
Scammers will often create a sense of urgency to prevent you from taking time to corroborate their stories and think things through. For instance, an IRS scammer could use aggression to get you to make an immediate payment. They could even threaten to call the police if you don’t comply.
Charity scams may emphasize the need for providing urgent aid to those affected by a devastating natural disaster. They could appeal to your kindness and generosity to rush you into donating.
If you come across any similar requests, avoid making hasty decisions. Any reputable organization will provide sufficient notice and time for you to respond to their demands, whether to settle an overdue tax or make a charitable donation.
4. Hard-to-Resist Offers
Extraordinarily large or valuable gifts, prizes, promotions, and other offers are a definite red flag. It could be a hard-to-resist sweepstake prize, an investment scheme offering above-market returns, a product promotion with unbelievable discounts, or a work-from-home job offer with a ridiculously high salary.
Any too-good-to-be-true offer like this should be treated with extra caution. These are often ploys to draw in victims by exploiting their greed and the fear of missing out.
5. Unusual Information Requests
Identity theft and financial fraud are the biggest incentives for scammers to lure victims. For this, data is key.
For instance, with your name, social security number, and tax identification details, fraudsters could file a hoax tax claim under your name. With your health insurance information, they may claim medical bills you haven’t acquired. Your credit card and bank account details will allow them to make expensive purchases, access your accounts, and withdraw money.
Legitimate organizations will never ask for identifiable information over the phone or via email. So, it is important to avoid sharing your personal data, no matter how convincing the caller may be.
6. Unusual Payment Methods
Unusual payment options, including cryptocurrency and gift cards, are another important red flag. Even requests for wire transfers should trigger suspicion. These methods are typically untraceable once a payment goes through.
So, be cautious if an organization insists you use any of these. Credit cards are comparatively much safer and could protect you from fraud with payment protection features.
From romance scams to IRS fraud, scammers could reach you in countless ways. But you can avoid many of their schemes when you know how to identify common red flags.
Be extra vigilant if a call or message is unexpected, seems out of place, and is followed by undue urgency for you to act. Pay attention to conflicting storylines, hard-to-resist offers, and requests for personal information or payments via untraceable methods. With due awareness and caution, you can easily outsmart scammers and prevent identity and financial fraud.
But don’t keep quiet if you suspect you have encountered a scam, even when you were able to detect and avoid it on time. Keep detailed records of all communications and inform the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. You can reach them via phone at 1-877-382-4357 or complain on their website. In addition, raise awareness by sharing your experience with as many people as possible.