Your Legal Rights

From the Office of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson

How to spot a scam

Scammers are constantly reinventing new ways to perpetrate old ploys. Whether you’re contacted by phone, mail, email, text, or in-person, the following tips provide advice on how to spot a scam.

Look For These Tell Tale Red Flags

You are contacted out of the blue. Scam artists aim fake invoices, phony debt collection notices, and spam emails at unsuspecting consumers hoping they will pay before checking their records. You should never send money or provide personal information to unknown or unfamiliar people or entities. For example:

“Steve” received a call from a man with a heavy foreign accent who claimed to be calling from the IRS about supposed unpaid taxes. Steve knew he’d paid his taxes on time and didn’t owe any money. When the individual said he had to pay immediately to avoid a penalty, Steve hung up.

You are required to send money upfront to receive a prize. Legitimate companies never require someone to pay money upfront to receive a prize. Consider this:

“Bill” received a mailing that claimed he’d won $1 million in an overseas lottery. The mailing stated that he needed to pay $500 for “taxes” to receive his winnings. Bill knew that foreign lotteries were illegal—and he certainly hadn’t entered one—so he tossed the mailing in the trash.

You are asked to send money via a wire transfer or “reload pack.” Scam artists often instruct consumers to send money by wire transfer or reloadable money packs. Sending money in these forms is the same as sending cash—it is nearly untraceable, and once the money is sent, it is generally gone for good. Just consider:

“Mike” received a call from someone who claimed to represent the “U.S. Government Grant Department.” The caller asked him to put $325 on a reloadable money pack and call back with the numbers on the back of the card to receive a $5,000 grant. Mike hung up because he knew that giving the number on the back of the card to the individual was as good as giving him cash.

You are asked to provide personal or financial information. Banks, government agencies, and legitimate companies only ask consumers to provide personal information in rare circumstances and don’t do so by email or text message. Scam artists impersonate these types of entities and use deceptive messages to lure consumers into providing their private information so they can use it to commit fraud. Never provide your private information in response to an unsolicited call, email, or text message. Instead, call the entity at the number listed on its website or the back of your card. For example:

“Roberto” received a text message that appeared to come from his bank. It said he should call a toll-free number to reactivate his credit card. Roberto knew his credit card was working properly and didn’t recognize the texter’s number. He called his bank using the telephone number listed on the back of his credit card, which confirmed the message was a scam.

You are asked to keep it a secret. Scam artists may ask consumers not to tell anyone about the situation so the consumer doesn’t get advice from someone who might detect the scam. If you are asked to keep a transaction a secret, you should do the opposite: immediately contact trusted family members or friends to investigate the situation and get their opinion:

“Delores” received a call from a man she thought was her grandson, “Mike.” He said that he was in trouble and needed money fast. Mike claimed that he was embarrassed about the situation and pleaded with Delores not to tell anyone about the matter, especially his parents. After the call ended, Delores called her daughter, who said Mike wasn’t in any trouble at all.

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