Red Flags of a Scam

Scams are rampant, with new ones popping up all the time as scammers adapt to new technologies, the latest trends and current events. Although the variety of scams can seem endless, there are some common characteristics that can help you recognize and avoid a scam.



Be on the lookout for these red flags:

  • Being asked to pay money in order to receive a prize or get a job
  • Pressure to act immediately
  • Use of scare tactics, e.g. telling you a loved one is in danger, that your computer has been hacked or threatening arrest if you don’t act now
  • Insistence that you wire money or pay by gift card
  • Receiving a check or overpayment and being asked to wire a portion of the funds back
  • Being asked to provide your password, PIN, Social Security number, account number or financial information to someone who contacts you out of the blue
  • Get-rich-quick and other promises that sound too good to be true
    If you are not sure whether a contact or solicitation is legitimate, hang up the phone, or, if it’s an email or text, do not reply, click on any links or download any attachments. Then, look up the actual contact information of the company or organization and call that number to verify whether you need to take any action or provide any information.

The Federal Trade Commission's 10 lies fraudsters often use to separate you from your money:


  • Act now! A common tactic scammers use is to pressure you to act immediately — whether it's to send them money, buy a gift card or provide them with personal information. That sense of urgency is always a sign someone is trying to rip you off, the FTC says.


  • Only say what I tell you to say. Scammers may instruct you to lie to someone, such as a spouse, financial adviser or even your bank. Don't fall for it.


  • Don't trust anyone — they're in on it. As the FTC notes, cybercriminals want you to feel isolated and unable to turn to someone who might tell you to pump the brakes.


  • Do [this] or you'll be arrested. "Any threat like this is a lie," the FTC says bluntly, adding that any suggestions that you could go to jail or get deported unless you fork over some money or information is a surefire scam.


  • Don't hang up. Yep, a scam. Con artists may ask you to stay on the phone while you buy a gift card or withdraw money from the bank so they can monitor what you're saying and talk you out of backing out of the transaction.


  • Move your money to protect it. It may seem obvious, but instructions from a total stranger on the other end of the phone telling you to move money from your bank or investment accounts to anywhere else is a scam, according to regulators.


  • Withdraw money and buy gold bars. Really? Afraid so. The FBI has warned about scammers telling victims to cash out their assets and buy gold, silver or other precious metals. Don't fall for it.


  • Withdraw cash and give it to [anyone]. If you're sensing a trend, you're onto something. Never hand over cash to anyone no matter who they claim to be. "Don't give it to a courier, don't deliver it anywhere, don't send it," the FTC warns.


  • Go to a Bitcoin ATM. Cryptocurrency-related scams are surging, according to the Better Business Bureau. That includes rip-offs in which you're encouraged to transfer your funds into cryptocurrency or withdraw money using a Bitcoin ATM.


  • Buy gift cards. Fraudsters have gotten creative in how they exploit the well-documented vulnerabilities around gift cards. Sometimes that involves stealing barcode and PIN information so they can make unauthorized transactions, but more commonly it means asking their victims to pay for something using a gift card. And once they have the PIN numbers on the back of the card, you can kiss your cash goodbye.


As for what you should do if you come across any of these phrases in the usual places where scammers lurk, that's easy: Don't respond.


"Hang up. Delete the email. Stop texting. Block their number — anything to get away from them," the FTC says, which also urges people to report possible scams to the agency at


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