Phone and Internet scams are an ongoing problem. Despite the fact most people are generally logical and maybe even a little suspicious, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) says people’s human nature to trust authority makes us more susceptible to these types of crimes. In fact, they claim it’s often very difficult to convince someone they are being scammed until the money is gone.
Watch for Red Flags
Some common red flags YOU might notice include:
- A sense of urgency to send money quickly, con artists want you to make decisions quickly
- Threats, such as a fake IRS caller threatening you with legal action or arrest if back taxes aren’t paid immediately
- Unusual means of contact, such as a phone call instead of an official letter via mail from a government agency
- Sending money back to people for an overpayment. For instance, if you sell something on Craigslist or Facebook and people “accidentally” make out the check for more than the correct amount, that usually means they are “paying” with money that doesn’t exist. (Accepting cash is best.)
- The need to pay a fee or tax to release a prize or lottery winnings
- Clicking a link within an email sent to you versus contacting the vendor yourself through normal channels
Tips for Avoiding Scams
Unfortunately, even when people notice a red flag, many don’t want to believe they could be scammed so they keep heading further down the wrong road. Consider following these rules of thumb to avoid getting pulled off track from the start:
- Don’t answer the phone. If you don’t recognize the number on caller ID, simply don’t pick up. If it’s someone you know, they’ll leave a message.
- If you pick up, feel free to hang up. Sometimes, a number seems familiar so you answer the call by accident. Don’t feel obligated to stay on the phone once you figure out it’s not a personal call. Hang up.
- Don’t click a link within an email. Even if it looks like it came from someone you know. Even if it looks important. The only time it’s safe to click a link in an email is when you are specifically waiting for a link from someone who told you they would send it. Otherwise, find this information through your normal channels and contact them directly.
- Don’t EVER give out personal information to someone who contacted you (only if you contacted them), such as your social security number, your credit card number, or a password/login credentials.
Action Steps after a Scam
If you think you might have made a mistake and given out sensitive information to someone trying to scam you, take action:
- Call your bank immediately.
- Alert your credit card provider.
- Change your passwords if you gave out login information for any accounts.
- If someone gained access to your computer, unplug it. Have your computer checked for malware prior to using it again.
- Report the scam to IC3.gov, to www.datcp.wi.gov, and to www.FTC.gov.
Scammers are getting more sophisticated and can be very believable. It’s often difficult to know what’s real. By sharing information, we can all get better at avoiding scams and shutting down known fraud.