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How do you spot a scammer?

People make up lots of stories about why you need to send them money. They might say you’ve won a prize, your family member is in an emergency, or that they love you. And in all these examples, they now need you to send them money. But how do you know what’s a scam and what’s legit, especially when you think it’s someone you know and care about asking? Read on to learn one of the surest ways to spot a scam.

Scammers want your money, in a hurry, and they don’t want you to be able to get it back. But a clue to spotting and stopping these scammers is knowing how they ask (or tell) you to pay. Listen for anyone who insists you pay one of these ways. If they do, chances are they’re a scammer:

  • Gift cards: Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. They’re popular with scammers because once you give the gift card PIN to someone, it’s like you just handed over cash. Gift cards also give you fewer protections, compared to other payment options.
  • Money transfer: When you wire money through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, it’s easy for a scammer to take your money and disappear. Wiring money is also like sending cash — once the scammer has it, you probably can’t get it back.
  • Cryptocurrency: Real companies or government agencies will never demand that you pay with cryptocurrency. And they’ll never say to buy crypto to sort out a problem or protect your money. And no utility company will demand payment in crypto. Who does any of that? Scammers.

How Scammers Tell You To Pay

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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

  • We won’t post off-topic comments, repeated identical comments, or comments that include sales pitches or promotions.
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We don't edit comments to remove objectionable content, so please ensure that your comment contains none of the above. The comments posted on this blog become part of the public domain. To protect your privacy and the privacy of other people, please do not include personal information. Opinions in comments that appear in this blog belong to the individuals who expressed them. They do not belong to or represent views of the Federal Trade Commission.

Phyllis Cypes
February 21, 2023

We got a "Grandma" call from an attorney who was supposed to be representing our Grandson because our grandson was in jail due to an auto accident. The first thing we did was call our grandson whose name the criminal knew. Our grandson assured us he was fine and had not been in an accident. How did the criminal know our grandson's name? If you look up anyones name there is a list of other family members. We discussed this with our other grandchildren and now have a simple code word. When you say to criminal what is the code word they hang up.
How do I get my family information off the internet???

Michael McLeod
February 21, 2023

I get a LOT of calls each day, when answered there is no one there just silence. The calls are obviously spoofed CID but you don't know that until you get to the phone. Very annoying! I am sure there a way to stop this. Making CID impossible to spoof is one way, then blocking a number would work but as of now the "Do not call list" is a joke it just doesn't work. Why can't you fix it?

February 23, 2023

In reply to by Michael McLeod

Ive been wondering the same thing. WHY has NOTHING been done over the past 10 years! What the heck? If these compaines can sell you something to block scammer calls and spoofed numbers, WHY CANT YOU? You have got to start finding ways to stop them ONSHORE and OFFSHORE. IT HAS TO STOP. They start at 5am west coast time and I cant get my REM or restorative sleep anymore. Its affecting my health not just my mental health.

February 21, 2023

Todd, you did a good job, ie. good summary. Still shocked at how many millions are scammed. Fortunately, as a senior, do not know perhaps even trust, the technology. Maybe there is a need for education here. I still do not know if I should use a debit or credit card. Can I say that cash is safer?

February 21, 2023

A larger box to leave a longer Comment* would be appreciated.

February 21, 2023

I've learned to play scammers so I can get phone numbers, area of where they live, etc., and turn in the information to the FTC.

Shirley oller
February 24, 2023

In reply to by Dedeye

I think that Facebook and Google should have to pay back some of the money that scammers get your information. . The adds and surveys are just a way to scam.. I know because it never happened to me until I did a survey..They know that this is happening, and now they are talking about charging a fee to be online. I HOPE THE FTC FINDS AWAY TO STOP ALL THE LIES IN THE ADS AND SURVEYS.

George Ouellette
February 21, 2023

Thanks for sharing this info on scammers!

Eduardo Morale…
February 21, 2023

Thank you, it has been useful

A D Hampton Jr
February 21, 2023

Thank you for sharing this information on how to spot a scam. I have friends who have been scammed this way. Not only have I benefitted by watching this video, I will share it with all my friends.

Marlene Hoover
February 22, 2023

I received a call from someone from Publisher's Clearinghouse saying I had won an unclaimed prize of $5 million dollars and to press a number to claim the prize. I hung up assuming this was a scam.

Dwyer Jones
May 09, 2023

Our military is really good at tracking and killing terrorists, and scammers are part of the international crime and terrorist world. Why can't international authorities track the phone terrorists to their locations, and kill every single one?

Roxan Main
February 23, 2023

I was wondering because I have a person who wants to send me money. What is the catch here.

February 24, 2023

In reply to by Roxan Main

They may send a check then say they sent too much and to send a check somewhere. By the time the check they sent is being cleared by your bank it turns out fake check. Now you're out what you sent them.

Consumer 101
February 22, 2023

Please consider to continuing these valuable reminders.
Gratefully Consumer 101

February 22, 2023

Thank you FTC for sharing so much good info to everyday people like me. I am careful when it comes to scammers emails, texts and calls. However hope that I am never taken by these evil people. I follow any scammer beware issues I can. In general, I have found the info on all subjects I find on these emails to be helpful. Much appreciate the info you send out.

February 22, 2023

if it is too goo to be true; it's NOT true - don't bite -; instead turn the table on them.

March 22, 2023

I was purchasing some cannabis seeds for my LEGAL medical grow last year. One site Herbies Seeds, Seedsman Seeds, NEITHER one DATES the seeds (could be 4 yrs old) and you MUST pay with BITCOIN is such a scam. They 1st say, we cannot accept your card if it doesnt have three way certification that is a made up thing. My bank never heard of it. These ppl are trying to HIDE their transaction to avoid paying taxes by selling from another country into ours. Its SO SCAMMY and way too untrustworthy for me. People should be TOLD about these scammer companies that hide behind LEGIT companies.

February 24, 2023

Please stop Facebook and Google from allowing these ads and surveys. And now Facebook and Twitter are talking about charging a fee to use them. I had never been scam until I did a few surveys and checked out some of the ads..I've turned in one to FTCFRAUD.GOV. TY SINCERELY YOURS

Bernard Saucedo
February 24, 2023

Dear admin, You always provide useful links and resources.