You work hard for your money, but there are unscrupulous people out there working just as hard to take it from you. If you fall victim to one of their tricks, your savings, your good credit, and your peace of mind could all vanish before your eyes. Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to spot scammers. They're crafty and constantly inventing new schemes. Here are five you should be on the lookout for.
Phony calls from the "IRS"
Tax season has drawn to a close, but scammers may still be out there trying to convince you that you filed your taxes incorrectly or that you owe the government more money. You may receive a call from someone claiming to work for the IRS alerting you to this "issue," but don't be fooled, even if they start threatening you with arrest or an audit.
If the IRS is really trying to get in touch with you, it will always send a letter first. And if the IRS does legitimately call you, it will never ask for credit or debit card information over the phone, demand immediate payment, or threaten to bring in the police. If this happens to you, hang up immediately and don't give out your personal information. Report the scam to the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Phishing emails may appear to come from your bank or a legitimate retailer. The goal is to trick you into entering identifying information, like your Social Security number, that the scammer can use to steal your identity and access your financial accounts or open new credit accounts in your name. They may do this by asking you to enter personal information into a web form or to respond to the email with this information. Alternatively, they may ask you to follow a link to a web page, but when you click on it, it downloads spyware, which gives the scammer access to the personal information on your computer.
If you receive a suspicious email, be careful about clicking any links or downloading any attachments. Always type in the URLs for the company websites yourself. Clicking on a link in an email may take you to a fake site instead. If you're unsure whether an email is legitimate, call the company to ask. Look up the number yourself, though -- don't use the one provided in the email. It could be fake. Report the scam to the FTC and forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An investment scam may come as a telephone call, letter, or email, or as a person knocking at your door. The person may introduce themselves as an investment professional with the opportunity of the lifetime. They'll promise spectacular returns and pressure you into investing today before "the deal" disappears, and they may make you feel stupid if you ask for more time to think about the offer. But that's exactly what you should do.
Even when you know you're dealing with a legitimate investment product, it's never smart to hand over your money before you understand what you're getting into. You should always do your research. First, verify that the individual or company that approached you with the offer is legitimate by looking them up using the FINRA BrokerCheck tool or by contacting the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). You can also look up information about the supposed investment in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) EDGAR database. If none of these sources are turning up any information, that's a good indication that it was all a scam. Notify the FTC, the SEC, and local law enforcement.
Online daters need to be wary of romance scams. With these, scammers create fake dating profiles and strike up a relationship with you. When they think they've gained your trust, they ask you to wire them some money, either to come and visit you or to help them pay for emergency expenses.
You may be tempted to comply out of the goodness of your heart, but someone sincerely interested in a relationship with you wouldn't make that request. Don't send any money to someone you met online, even if you've met them in person once or twice. Take things slowly and cut off all contact if you suspect the person is trying to scam you. Report them to the FTC.
Scammers may also attempt to take advantage of your generosity by pretending to work for a charity. This is especially common after natural disasters, when many Americans are looking for ways to help those affected.
Before donating any money, you should always verify that the charity is legitimate. Use the IRS' Tax-Exempt Organization Search to see if it is a real nonprofit organization. If you cannot find it there, it's probably fake. Don't give out any personal information or any money, and don't feel pressured if the scammer tries to make you feel guilty for not helping those in need. Look up a legitimate charity to donate to instead, and report the false one to the FTC.
Scammers will keep looking for ways to separate you from your cash, but you can avoid falling for them if you protect your personal information carefully and take steps to verify the legitimacy of any company, individual, or investment you're unfamiliar with.