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How to Spot a Scammer Thumbnail

How to Spot a Scammer

by Carla LaFleur

On Monday, I received a very odd voicemail:

“Ignoring this message will be an intentional 2nd attempt to avoid an initial appearance before the magistrate judge of the grand jury for a federal criminal offense. The number to reach us would be XXX-XXX-XXXX. I repeat, the number is XXX-XXX-XXX. I advise you to cooperate with us and help us to help you.”

I thought back to my weekend. I didn’t remember committing any felonies—though who knows, I did visit a winery with my mother and my husband. Things could have gotten a little crazy…but I doubted it, so I just ignored the call.

But I started to feel a little funny about the whole thing. What if this scammer convinced someone to give away their personal information or to wire money?

Occasionally our clients ask us to look into similar scams or too-good-to-be-true “investment opportunities,” so I wanted to share the steps I take to investigate whenever something doesn’t quite feel right.

How to Spot a Scam

Google the phone number or name plus the word “scam,” “complaint” or “lawsuit.”

Normally this step provides all the information you need. With the strange voicemail I received, I Googled the phone number plus the word “scam,” and I saw that the scammer had been busy—there were dozens of recent comments from people he had called with the same vaguely threatening message. The Better Business Bureau is another resource you can use to search phone numbers, individuals and businesses.

Be aware of common scam tactics. 

Scammers and con artists are persuasive—that’s how they make their living. They use high-pressure tactics, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Saying that time is limited to take advantage of an amazing opportunity. (If it really was so amazing, they wouldn’t have to cold-call people to convince them to participate.)
  • Asking you to “confirm” your account or financial information.
  • Playing on your emotions by impersonating a family member in need of help.
  • Threatening legal action
  • Requests for payment up-front. A common one is the “sweepstakes scam” where the scammer claims you have won a sweepstakes, but you need to send money to claim your prize.
  • Requesting your checking account number, savings account number, Social Security number, or any other private information.

Confirm with a source you know is legitimate. 

If you’re not sure whether the person contacting you is who they say they are, look up the organization they are claiming to be a part of and contact them directly. Do not ever use contact information provided by someone who might be a scammer.

Know that the IRS will never make first contact by phone if there is a problem with your taxes, and businesses should never reach out to you unsolicited to confirm account information—especially financial institutions.

What Should You Do When You Find a Scam

Do NOT give out any personal or financial information. Scammers and con artists can be charismatic and persuasive. But under no circumstances should you give out any information in response to an unsolicited call or email.

Report it to the organization the scammer is impersonating and the Federal Trade CommissionBusinesses want to know if their customers are being targeted, and organizations like the FTC have the resources to go after scammers.

More Resources

  • The FBI’s list of common fraud schemes
  • The Better Business Bureau’s 10 most common scams
  • The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has a step-by-step guide to investigate whether an investment or advisor is legitimate. (Remember, even if a particular investment is legitimate, it may or may not be a good fit in light of your entire financial situation. We are happy to help our clients evaluate these situations.)

If you get a strange call or email, I hope these steps will help you to identify a scam. If you are ever in doubt, or if you suspect your information has been compromised, please contact us at Halpern Financial and we can help you to take the appropriate steps to protect your personal financial information.

Photo used under public domain.


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