Bad news out of the blue? News too good to be true? No matter the scheme, we can apply the three golden rules to spot the scam.

Online Shopping scams

Magnifying glass spots a miniature scammer jumping out of an envelope with cash, credit card and emergency signs.

Increased online shopping has led to a surge in fraud reports due to sellers who fail to deliver, period.

Slow down

Watch out for “deals”

Often scammers will place “limited time only” on an item to fool buyers into believing they’re getting a deal that is too good to be true. Check out websites that offer price comparisons and then compare “apples to oranges.”

Spot check

Research the seller

Make sure the seller has a physical address and an email address and phone number that work. You can also search for the company along with words like “scam” or “complaint”

Stop! Don’t send

Don’t pay with gift cards

Instead, pay with a credit card so you can contact the credit card company to dispute any charges if a seller doesn’t deliver or the item is not as promised.

Romance scams

Man gazing lovingly at an online dating profile on his laptop ominously labeled with a broken heart.

Romance scammers may have a silver tongue, but they’re going for your gold. Over $200 million was reported lost to romance scams in 2019 alone.

Slow down

Watch out for sudden urgency

Even if the romance has built slowly over time, a scammer’s request for money can come on quite urgently.

Spot check

Do a search of your admirer

Often scammers will set up accounts using stolen photos from the internet. Search for their name or their photo to verify that they are who they say they are.

Stop! Don’t send

Say no to gift cards

In extraordinary situations, you might offer to buy your suitor a physical item. If they insist on a gift card or wire transfer instead, it’s a scam.

Bad news scams

Concerned woman looking at an emergency symbol flashing on her phone with rain clouds overhead.

Many scammers hunt for victims with calls or emails claiming to be from a government agency or bank. You’re wise to be skeptical of anyone who demands payment out of the blue.

Slow down

Ask clarifying questions

Government employees aren’t paid on commission. If a scammer gets irritated when you try to slow it down, they’re probably a fraud.

Spot check

Check with the organization directly

Don’t use contact details provided by the caller. Do your own research to find an official number or website.

Stop! Don’t send

Don’t agree to odd payments

You should never pay a bill with a gift card, wire transfer or Bitcoin. Any reputable organization will ask for credit card or check.

Good news scams

Woman is surprised to see hands with cash, a lei, and a tropical postcard emerging from her phone.

Scammers may call out of the blue to say that you are owed lottery winnings, a vacation, prize, or rebate—but must make a payment to claim it. Never pay upfront to receive winnings later.

Slow down

Ask a trusted advisor for help

Seek advice from a family member or friend, lawyer, accountant, or financial planner if you aren’t sure whether this good news is real.

Spot check

Get more info about the prize

A quick search on the internet should help you see if such a contest or sweepstakes actually exists. If there’s no evidence, it’s likely a scam.

Stop! Don’t send

Don’t pay for a prize

Processing fees or taxes may seem small relative to the promised sum, but once they get some money from you, the payout never arrives.

A wise man looks closer at his giant phone as he debates whether the conversation is safe or a scam.

Now test your knowledge with real-life examples to see if you can tell who’s behind the screen.

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