If you’ve ever been approached by a scammer, you’re not alone. All over the country, fraudsters work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in an effort to make your hard-earned money theirs.
In a world full of technology and social media, their scam tactics have become more sophisticated and convincing than ever before. But don’t feel discouraged! Even though hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. were scammed in 2020 alone, preventing a scam starts with one person: you.
How do I know this? As a Mission Lane payment fraud specialist, I’ve spent the last year speaking to dozens of scammed cardholders who are stuck paying off balances that are four or five times their credit limit. I’ve also spoken to the scammers. Though I’ve witnessed many different types of scams, the pre-scam red flags are all the same.
If you pick up on the following warning signs, you’ll be your own best line of defense in fending off the depths of fraud-induced debt.
Don’t Be Fooled: The Phishing Scam
Just as a fisherman casts his bait, phishing fraudsters create and send you phony links to reel you in. With just one click of that link, you’ll give the scammer instant access to your saved passwords, credit card information, and often full range of your digital wallet.
Phishing attacks are on the rise and have become even more pervasive during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you receive a text or email that appears to be from your credit card company asking you to follow a link to check on your account, stop and ask yourself four things:
- Did the message come out of the blue? If so, red flag.
- Are they asking you to follow a link? If so, red flag.
- Is it a secure message through the company website? If not, red flag.
- Is it coming from the company’s official phone number? If not, red flag.
If you’re still unsure, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Give your bank a call asking them whether the communication was indeed from them. That simple step could save you thousands.
Another common phishing strategy is making it look like you’ve won something, and that you need to claim your prize right away. No matter how tempting, clicking on a “Congratulations, you’ve won!” link will give the scammer immediate access to your private information.
Don’t Be Fooled: The Imposter Scam
While many people know that scams can happen anywhere and at any time, one thing people fail to realize is that they can also come from anyone. Imposters try to get into your pockets by posing as almost anyone they can think of. In my experience, I’ve seen them pretend to be a neighbor, a credit card company’s collection department, a lawyer from a major corporation, someone from the IRS.
Imposters invest a lot of energy in convincing you that they are who they’re pretending to be. These con artists also rely on scare tactics to convince you of their false persona, going as far to say that you’ll end up in jail if you don’t pay them right away. Their messages also often include bogus phishing links that, once opened, will steal your personal information or contaminate your device with malware.
How do you avoid this type of attack? Always verify the source of the text, email, or phone call. Companies and government agencies will never give you a hard time for protecting your personal information, especially if the request is made through a sudden message or phone call. To be safe, you should never allow another person to access your information or connect to your devices, no matter what.
If you think you’re a victim of a phishing attack or imposter scam, check out the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) advice on your next best steps.
Don’t Be Fooled: The Romance Scam
Chances are you’ve seen an ad for, or downloaded, an online dating app. While tons of people sign up for these services every day, some in particular create accounts with one goal in mind: to win you over and steal your money.
The romance scam is one of many ways that scammers take advantage of your willingness to help. Instead of using scare tactics to hook their victims, these crooks work hard to earn their victims’ trust - and they aren’t afraid to get intimate.
In my experience, these fraudsters will offer to make payments on your credit card account in exchange for gift cards. Why gift cards? My general suspicion is that they ask for gift cards to trick you into feeling like your money is going towards a good cause. Whether they claim it’s to help their sick family member, to pay off hospital bills, or to travel from point A to point B, they’ll often insist that gift cards are the only way you can help them. What’s more, they’ll even make it look like they’re delivering on their part of the bargain by making payments on your account. Warning: those payments almost always return. Even if it looks like they’ve made a payment on your account without issue, the scammer can easily revert that payment weeks or months later.
In my experience, these scams often occur over a period of time, and leave victims out hundreds to thousands of dollars. When the scammer finally feels like they’ve taken all they can from you, you’ll never hear from them again.
Reminder: a request for money in any way is a red flag. Try to be mindful of who you’re meeting online, never allow other people to make payments for you, and never give someone gift cards as a form of payment. To be safe, you should be the only one to ever access your bank account.
You can find out what to do if you think you paid a scammer with gift cards, or learn more about the gift card scam in general, by visiting the FTC’s website .
Before you go, remember:
These scams can happen fast, so staying vigilant to the warning signs and stopping the scam before it starts is your best bet. By staying aware of existing scams and protecting your private information, you’ll likely be much less of a target. No matter who approaches you, how they approach you, or what they ask for, keep these tricks in mind and, above all, don't be fooled.
For more information on protecting yourself from scammers, take a look at the FTC’s tips on how to avoid a scam.