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Updated on Author: Contributor: Sergei Lemberg

What Are the Most Common Scams?

Scams. Some of the more ridiculous ones leave you shaking your head, wondering how anyone could possibly fall for it. How could anyone become engaged to a prince, sight unseen, and send them thousands of dollars to move to the United States? And how could someone else think the IRS wanted their back taxes paid in I-Tunes gift cards? 

These are some common red flags that you’re dealing with a scam artist. No matter what you think of people who fall for some of the more obvious ones, the truth is you can easily become a victim yourself. Every day scam artists come up with new and approved ways to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. But knowledge is power, and armed with the right information, you can out-smart even the most skilled scam artists.

Remember, anything that sounds too good to be true, probably is.

Here is a list of Common Scams, according to the federal government:

  • Claiming you won a prize or the lottery or a trip to Disney. You just need to hand over your credit card number to pay a deposit that you’ll get back after everything is processed. Rule of thumb is anything you have to pay for is not a prize.
  • Pretend to be law enforcement or the police. A common form this can take is calling up and claiming they have your family member, and you need to pay their bail right now or they’ll spend the night in jail. Remember that such a call would come directly from your relative. Police officers would not be that helpful. A scam artist is trying to help themselves to the contents of your checking account, so beware!
  • Charity scams-these tend to pop up whenever disaster strikes, or around the holidays, to capitalize on people’s emotions. Never donate to an organization without verifying it is legitimate. Take their name and number and look them up online, or ask a family to do it, before forking over a single cent. Scam charities deliberately target untouched residents of an area hit by a disaster-for instance, if a neighborhood near you was decimated by tornadoes but your neighborhood was not damaged, be on high alert. Scammers are trying to use the guilt you feel about escaping catastrophe unscathed against you.
  • Pretend to be the IRS, or the Social Security Administration. Neither organization would contact you by phone, they send official communications through the mail. 
  • Want to extend car warranties, and who hasn’t received a call like that? 
  • Debt or credit card relief organizations, sometimes they appear to be legit offers to settle your debt for pennies on the dollar, then you realize much later it was a scam and they just took the money and ran.
  • Travel and TimeShare offers
  • Free Trials

Language that clues you into the fact that you’re dealing with a scam artist:

  • Threatens that you will be arrested, fined, or deported if you do not comply with whatever they’re demanding-handing over your identity, your credit card number, etc.
  • Want you to make a decision NOW. Legitimate businesses and charities understand that you may want to think it over and research them, and they are more than willing to give you time to decide. If you’re being told you need to do it now, you are being worked over by a scam artist.
  • Asks you to pay with a gift card. Scam artists like gift cards because you can’t stop payment on them like with your credit card or checking account, they’re portable, and they’re hard to trace. Be aware that the IRS would never ask you to pay your taxes with I-Tunes gift cards. Anyone that is insisting on this method of payment is likely a scam artist.
  • Says they’re going to suspend your social security number. That is literally NOT a thing. Social security numbers cannot be suspended like credit cards. If someone threatens you with that, laugh. But do not give them your social security number.
  • You are already on the National Do Not Call Registry. Legitimate businesses must adhere to state and federal laws, so if they appear to be disregarding a law that says they can’t call you, chances are they are not operating within the law. They’re a scam.
  • They’re offering something for nothing, it seems too good to be true, and all they need is your checking account or credit card number to hold your place. No free trip to Disney is worth having your identity stolen. This is a scam.

OH NO! You fell for it. Is there anything I can do now?

Don’t feel bad, it happens to the best of us. There may be some ways to reclaim your money before it vanishes into the scam artist’s pocket:

  • If you gave them your bank or credit card information, call the bank immediately and ask them to freeze those accounts without delay. 
  • If you can access your information online, look it over carefully. Do you see a small, insignificant transaction that is only a few dollars, something you ordinarily would dismiss as a forgotten soda purchased as a gas station? That could be a red flag that your account is compromised. Scam artists often “test” the card with a small transaction to see if it works. Notify your bank immediately, before they take anything else.
  • If you sent the scammer gift cards that you paid for via check, debit, or credit card, contact the bank or credit card company to see if you can stop payment on those transactions.

Unsure whether you are being targeted by a scam artist? Contact a consumer attorney.

About the author:

Contributor: Sergei Lemberg

Sergei Lemberg is a consumer rights attorney, practicing since 2006, whose practice focuses on consumer law, class actions and personal injury litigation. He is known for a United States Supreme Court case (Facebook v. Duguid) defending consumers from autodialers under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 to send unsolicited text messages. He is also the author of Defanging Debt Collectors, a book that teaches consumers how to battle debt collectors and win.

See more posts from Contributor: Sergei Lemberg
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