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When you know how to spot a scam, you’re better able to stop it.

No matter your age or gender, residence or education level, Barbie or Oppenheimer, chances are you’ll be the target of a scam at some point. As the FTC has emphasized, the question is not if, but when and how.

That’s why we want to share with you a list of common scam scenarios. Your familiarity with these common scenarios can help you avoid scams and protect your finances. Remember, knowledge is power, so learn what you can and then share what you know with everyone.


Scam Scenario: A message on your device says that you have been hacked and to call the listed number to address it.

Bust it: Do not call the number. There is no situation in which your device will display a “You’ve been hacked” message or anything similar. Assume a message like that is not from your device or security software. If you’re still not sure, consult a trusted friend or expert.


Scam Scenario: A person or company asks you to submit your payment using gift cards.

Bust it: Nope. That’s a huge red flag. Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Scammers want gift cards because those payments can’t be tracked. Do not submit any payment using gift cards.


Scam Scenario: A person or company asks you to deposit money into a Bitcoin machine.

Bust it: Pass. This is a standard tactic in cryptocurrency scams. Legitimate businesses will not ask you to deposit or send cryptocurrency. Be very cautious of anyone who promises that you can make money quickly and easily in the crypto market. As a rule of thumb, don’t send money to a person or company you’ve only had online interactions; do not take them up on their offer to send cryptocurrency for investment or purchase. To learn more about Cryptocurrency Scams, check out this article from the FTC for an extensive explanation of how scammers use Bitcoin deposits to exploit victims.


Scam Scenario: A person or company reaches out on social media. They say they want to use your photo/content and will pay you for it.

Bust it: Too good to be true. Do not respond to the request. Report and/or block the account.


Scam Scenario: A person reaches out on social media, and you develop a long-distance relationship. Without ever having met in person, they start asking you to send money or sign up for fake investment platforms.

Bust it: Don’t take the bait. Scammers exploit this scenario way too often, and tugging at the heartstrings can too easily transition to tugging at the purse strings. Best to end it. Better safe than sorry, right? Painful though it may be and callous though it may seem, don’t send the money to someone you’ve never met, even if they claim it will be used for them to come visit you.


Scam Scenario: A person or company informs you that a fraudulent wire has been sent out from your account. They pressure you to send another wire to cancel it out.

Bust it: Don’t respond. Hang up and call your financial institution using an established communication channel that you already know and trust.


Scam Scenario: You apply online and are hired for a job (often a personal assistant). Your new boss emails you a check to purchase equipment and return the overage as gift cards with a PIN.

Bust it: Pass. This one is a vanishing act. If you send the PIN, your money and new boss/job will vanish into thin air. To bust it, disregard the check and cut off contact with your “new boss.”


Scam Scenario: A person claims to be from an organization and threatens you with arrest, deportation, or physical harm if you don’t agree to pay them immediately.

Bust it: Report the threat to the police and inform your financial institution.


Scam Scenario: You send compromising pictures or videos of yourself to someone online. Upon receipt, they blackmail you by threatening to share the pictures or videos directly with your family or publicly unless you pay them a certain amount.

Bust it: Report the threat to the police and inform your financial institution. Also, as a general rule of thumb, don’t take and/or send compromising pictures or videos.


Scam Scenario: A person coerces you to send money and coaches you on how to lie to your financial institution.

Bust it: Another huge red flag. Report the scam to the police and contact your financial institution to determine next steps.


Scam Scenario: A company calls to inform you that your next check should be sent to their updated address.

Bust it: To verify the legitimacy of the request, contact your financial institution using an established communication channel that you already know and trust.


Scam Scenario: You receive a check that already has a signature on the back or a typed font in the endorsement section. Or it says “Approved Payment” or “Payment Approved” or “Approved for Deposit” in the memo line.

Bust it: Discard the check.


In summary, here are common red flags to help you identify a scam:

  • The communication is unsolicited or urgent.
  • It triggers your emotions.
  • It requires that you open a document or click a link to fix a problem or claim a prize.
  • It requires that you disclose personal information.
  • It asks you to pay in gift cards, Bitcoin, or cash apps.

When in doubt, take control of the communication channel. If the communication is from someone you know, end the communication, and then reach out to that person or company using an established communication channel that you already know and trust. The key is that you initiate the conversation, not the other way around. If it’s from someone you don’t know, end the communication. Don’t trust it.

In any of these scenarios, if you shared your social security number or any other personal banking information, contact your financial institution and the following credit bureaus to freeze your account and protect yourself from identity theft.


How the Fraud Squad can help 

The Fraud Squad provides education about common scams to retailers and consumers. The program helps raise awareness of common scams so they can more easily recognize the lies and avoid phone, email, social media, gift card and other scams to help them protect their financial health and wealth. Learn more about ways to safeguard your finances at

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