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Stay a Step Ahead of Scammers

Crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine new technology with old tricks to get people to send money or divulge  personal information. They add new twists to old schemes and pressure people to make important decisions on the spot. One thing that never changes: they follow the headlines — and the money. Here are some practical tips to share with your clients so they can stay a step ahead of scammers.

  1. Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request—whether it comes as a text, phone call, or e-mail.  

  2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or research a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.

  3. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call them back at a number you know is genuine—not the one they give you.

  4. Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for assistance in paying down your debt, getting credit and loans, a mortgage, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear. 

  5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards and gift cards. Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.

  6. Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or talk to a friend.

  7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.

  8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.

  9. Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.

  10. Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at FTC.gov/scams. Get the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.

If you believe your client has been victimized by a scam, encourage them to report it at FTC.gov/complaint. Reports from consumers help the FTC and other law enforcers investigate scams and bring crooks to justice.


Carol Kando-Pineda is Counsel in the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Consumer and Business Education where she leads teams to create and distribute free resources to help people spot scams, manage their money, and make wise purchases. She also builds outreach partnerships and manages the Commission’s initiatives with military and veteran audiences. She began her FTC career litigating false advertising cases, served as the agency’s Legislative Counsel, and served for several years as a liaison between the FTC and Congress. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and her JD from Suffolk University.

The Standard

3rd Quarter 2017


Thank you to this issue's contributors:

LaShawn Brown

Carrie L. Johnson

Carol Kando-Pineda

Elizabeth Martinéz

Jinnifer P. Ortquist

Michelle Pimentel

Brenda Vaughn

Lisa Ware

Robert Weber 

Rebecca Wiggins

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