The Tell-Tale Signs of a Financial Scam, and What to Do When You See Them

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Part of securing your finances is being on the lookout for scams; if you know what they look like you can recognize them early and avoid getting caught up in them. They can be hard to spot since the whole point is to appear legitimate but there are usually a few details that give them away. Here’s what to look out for…

A Sense of Urgency

It could be an “extremely limited time offer” or a threat of legal action, or even arrest, if you don’t resolve things immediately. The scammer wants you to take action before you’ve had a chance to really think about things or verify their claims. Any time you’re being urged to take action right away, you should be suspicious.

Strange Payment Methods

The IRS does not accept gift cards as payments for back taxes owed. Sure, that’s an extreme example you probably wouldn’t fall for but you get the idea. Gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, bitcoin, wiring money (like Western Union), etc. are often the methods preferred by scammers. They’re difficult to trace or reverse and the transfer is basically immediate. If they insist on oddly specific payment methods, be suspicious.

A Sense of Secrecy

Whether it’s an outright demand that you don’t tell anyone about this or something more subtle, like hinting that you would be embarrassed if any of your friends or family found out about this, scammers don’t want you to talk things over with anyone else. If you do, you might figure out it’s not real. The more people you talk to the better chance that someone will recognize the scam.

So what can you do if you suspect a scam but aren’t sure? Basically the opposite of whatever it is they want.

They want you to act quickly? Slow down. Don’t take any action immediately.

Tell them you’ll call them back, that you have to verify something, or that you just can’t talk right now. Don’t get rushed into action, even if the action seems innocent like verifying your birth date or a former address. The more insistent they are that you need to do this right now the bigger the red flag.

They want you to send money or account details right now? Don’t, it’s that simple.

Legitimate offers or collections notices will give you straightforward, traceable ways to pay with verifiable payment instructions. You won’t need to jump through any hoops, and you won’t need to make the payment that very second. When’s the last time your real credit card company called and demanded you pay your balance off this very instant? It doesn’t happen.

They want you not to tell anyone? Talk it over with someone.

It could be a friend, a colleague, a BrightDime coach. Talk it over and ask if it seems legit to them.
If the potential scammer names an organization they claim to be from, verify what they’re saying independently, not through any callback numbers, email addresses, or links they provide (this should sound familiar if you’ve read our article about phishing). If they say they’re calling from Bank of America about your account, politely hang up, go login to your account and see if there are any messages about what they claimed on the call. Or look up the Bank of America number and call them directly to ask about your account (never use the number they called you from).

Finally, remember that legitimate offers, collections calls, notices from the IRS, etc. WANT to work with you. Their interest is in getting a resolution so they shouldn’t mind if you slow down, ask for verification, and explain that you’re worried about getting scammed. If they’re legitimate, they’ve got no reason to object.