Not Sure Who to Trust? Tips for recognizing a scam

It is human nature to find the good in people. It’s a wonderful and healthy thing. However, not everyone deserves our trust.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created an organization called the Internet Crime Complaint Center – IC3 for short – to help monitor and shut down Internet scams. In fact, roughly 300,000 complaints are lodged every year with IC3 to report Internet fraud.

How can you tell if something is real? Start by avoiding these red flags:

  • Urgency – Most fraud includes instilling some sense of urgency or need for immediate action. The anxiety caused by the need for a quick response can create a temporary lapse in judgment.
  • Threats – Legitimate sources will not threaten you with fines, prison, or bodily harm to yourself or a loved one. This may sound obvious, but it really isn’t. Consider the threat of jail or a major fine if a “tax shortfall” isn’t paid immediately. It can seem very real at the time.
  • Unusual means of contact – How does this source normally contact you? Using the tax example again, the IRS does not use informal or undocumented forms of communication, such as a phone call. A good rule of thumb is to refuse to give out any personal or sensitive information to someone who calls you. If you call them, it should be safe.
  • Sending someone money for an overpayment – Oftentimes, people will “mistakenly” overpay for something you’re selling in the classifieds or online. If they ask you to send the difference back, odds are the original payment is fake. Ask them to send a new check for the correct amount (or wait until the payment clears or is verified).
  • Winning a contest or lottery you don’t remember entering – This can be a tough one since we buy raffle tickets from the neighbor kid and drop our business card in a drawing box at our favorite restaurant. Who can keep it all straight? However, if it doesn’t sound familiar, you’re better off walking away.
  • Paying to release prizes – You should not have to pay for a prize. If you DO win a prize or raffle, you should never have to pay taxes or a fee before receiving the gift.
  • You clicked a link in an email – criminals can disguise a link to look legitimate. Get to the source by entering the website address yourself or through your normal process for logging in rather than through a link sent to you.

All of these situations serve as red flags that something might be wrong. Trust your gut, and take action. If you think you may have been scammed or were contacted for the purpose of being scammed, report it to the following:

  1. Your local police department
  2. The Federal Trade Commission at
  3. The FBI at

The best advice? Slow down and think. Most problems happen when we’re not giving a decision our full attention.

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