Here at the Federal Trade Commission, we see a lot of different scams. But all scammers want to get your money as quickly as possible, in a way that makes it hard to trace them, and hard for you to get your money back. I'm going to tell you about some of the common ways scammers want you to pay. Once you know them, you'll know how to spot a scam, and you'll know to be careful if someone asks you to pay that way.
First, there's wiring money. Somebody might call you, maybe about a prize you won, a loved one in trouble, or because you supposedly owe taxes or some kind of fee. The story sounds real and maybe even alarming. The person on the phone rushes you to Western Union or MoneyGram to send the money. But wiring money is like sending cash. You almost never get it back, and scammers know that.
Another favorite of scammers are gift cards or cash reload cards. Here's how it works: those same people call, and, again, there's a prize, a family emergency, or some fee they want you to pay. They tell you to go to the store and put money on a gift card, like an iTunes card or a cash reload card, like MoneyPak, Vanilla Reload, or Reloadit. Sometimes they'll even stay on the phone with you while you go to the store. Once your money is loaded onto the card, they'll ask for the card's registration numbers. That lets them get the money right away, and you're left with nothing.
So now you know. If anyone ever says you have to wire money, or pay them with a gift card or cash reload card, that's a scam. No matter who they say they are, or how urgent it seems, stop. Get off the phone. Talk to someone. And then tell us at ftc.gov/complaint.