ID Theft and Scams > Common Scams

ID Theft Common Scams ID Theft

These days, it seems like a new scam is born every minute. There are plenty of stories in the media about new schemes that steal money from companies, organizations and individual people. You may even know someone who had money or important information stolen from them through a scam.

Scams rely on social engineering (that is, someone pretending to be something they aren’t in order to get access to your information or resources) to work. This deception allows the scammer to be perceived as someone with authority or someone who has something you want. The scammer then asks for either money (or some other resource or currency) or information, which you may be tempted to provide. New scams are constantly being formulated, often after an incident (such as a pop culture event, a catastrophe, or a holiday) or using everyday emergencies as a pretext. By the time you finish reading the text on this page, there will likely be a slew of new scams; for this reason, it’s important to be able to spot the common characteristics that scams tend to share. Recognizing these schemes will allow you to evade most scams.

The Common Scam
Once you know the parts that make up most scams, they become easier to spot. Some scams are geared towards selling/giving you something. They often offer some sort of premium product or service for a price that is too good to be true, but you can only get in on this deal if you act now. The scammers may present themselves as anyone from a company, a government agency, to an individual.

Other scams will threaten you with some sort of penalty if you do not act soon (usually by either sharing your information or paying some sort of “fine”). The bad actors are likely to masquerade as government officials, or someone with authority.

Some types of scams will try to take advantage of a tragic situation. These events can be either real (a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, etc.) or invented (calling you to tell you that a family member is in the hospital or in jail). They will take advantage of your impulse to help.

What things should you look for when trying to identify whether a solicitation is legitimate or a scam? Most scams share some similar characteristics:
  • A sense of urgency. No matter if the scammer is trying to sell you something, trying to threaten you, or talking about some emergency, you must act now or you will miss out/be punished. Resist being pressured to make any deal with anyone until you can step back and get more information. Scammers likely won’t be forthcoming with information because they know the more you know, the less likely you are to fall for the scam.
  • The offer is too good to be true. Brand new, luxury goods for super low prices? The latest tech gift for half the price? Make a doctor’s salary from home while just doing data entry? Every now and then you might find a good deal or maybe extra income from legitimate means, but scrutinize any offer that looks too enticing.
  • Unconventional payment methods. Scammers usually ask for payment to be made either by wire transfer, though payment apps, or through gift cards. Legitimate businesses/charities and government agencies will never ask you to pay via these methods. Scammers use these methods because they cannot be easily traced and once the money is gone, you cannot get it back.
  • They contact you. Scammers usually initiate contact with you somehow. They may call, send invoices, email, or contact you through an app or website. Sometimes a legitimate business or government agency may contact you first, but they will usually not ask you for identifying information or for payment over the phone. If you have doubts, hang up the phone and look up a legitimate phone number for the company/agency and call them. If there’s an issue, you can then begin resolving it.
  • You are asked to keep matters secret. Scammers may sometimes ask you for confidentiality. They may tell you not to tell friends or family, or to contact the authorities. This is so no one can advise you that you are most likely being scammed. No legitimate business, charity, government agency, or individual (that you may be doing business with) should have issue with you sharing the details of your transaction.

Now that you know what to look for, what can you do to prevent being scammed? And what can be done if you fall victim to a scam?
  • Research any offers. If something seems to good to be true, it just might be. If something is for sale or offered online, research the website and the company.
  • Reach out to a friend/family member or the authorities. Another set of eyes might be able to help you spot trouble. Your local law enforcement agency may also be knowledgeable about scams currently impacting your area.
  • Don’t let anyone rush you, and don’t be afraid to say no. If you are uncomfortable with an offer, say no. Take all the time you need to think over any solicitation.
  • Don’t give out any information. Until you’re absolutely sure the entity you’re dealing with is legitimate, keep your information to yourself. Remember, once you put it out there, you can’t get it back. Keep in mind that scammers can change the way their phone number displays on your phone (a process called spoofing) or use a fake email address. Never assume the number or address you see is legitimate.
  • If you fall for a scam, act quickly. Call your bank to stop a wire transfer (this is not always guaranteed, but the faster you act, the more likely you are to get some or all of your money back) and contact your local authorities. Additionally, Florida residents can file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General. Before buying any gift cards to use as payment, keep in mind that once the scammers get that card number there is no recovering funds.