It happens all the time—you check your email inbox or your phone rings, and on the other end, someone is trying to steal your money. Maybe you ignore it. Perhaps you hang up or delete the message. Then again, you might not.
You may think you know someone is trying to trick you, but keep in mind scammers succeed often enough to be successful, otherwise these things wouldn’t happen. For the most part, thieves employ one of a few tactics that may convince you you’re dealing with a legitimate person or company, and by knowing these strategies, you’re more likely to spot a scam before you become a victim of it. Here area few signs you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
1. They Ask You to Pay on a Prepaid Card
Sometimes, it’s not clear you’re dealing with a scammer until it comes time to pay for something. This often happens with Craigslist scams: You find something for a great deal, you go back and forth with the seller to ask questions about the item or service, and when it’s time to finalize the transaction, the seller requests a money order or a prepaid card.
It happens with loan or sweepstakes scams, too, in which you should be receiving money, but the person you’re in contact with requests you to send a deposit of sorts by putting money on prepaid cards and providing the person the card info.
Prepaid cards are a common tool in scams because it’s easy to receive the money and move it quickly, without being traced.
2. They’re Emailing You From an Unofficial Email Domain
Companies have custom email domains, so there’s no reason someone from your bank would be sending you an email from a Yahoo or Gmail account. Cross-reference the email address with the email information posted to a company’s website, and look closely for misspellings. Here are some other tips for keeping your email inbox scam-free.
3. They Say You’re About To Be Arrested
Scammers rely on targets’ emotional responses to get what they’re after, so they’ll do their best to scare you into giving money. If someone calls you saying your arrest is imminent, unless you pay $X (via a prepaid card, probably), stay calm and be realistic: If you really did something that warranted your arrest, do you really think someone would call and say it could all go away for a couple hundred or thousand dollars? It wouldn’t. Hang up.
4. They Threaten Immediate Legal Action
While a creditor can sue you for an unpaid debt, it’s not a swift process. You have debt collection rights the creditor and collector must respect, and you should verify the legitimacy of a debt before paying any money. If you suspect something illegal is occurring, a consumer law attorney may review your case for free. Make sure you’re familiar with these rights if you’re ever dealing with a debt collector.
5. They Request Sensitive Information
If you call your bank and they request identity verification, that makes sense. If someone calls you and wants to verify your identity, that’s a sign of a scam. Don’t share any personal information with someone who reaches out to you, and if you’re concerned the request is legitimate, independently verify the contact information for whatever company has contacted you and reach out yourself.
Additionally, don’t provide any sensitive information by email. First of all, any company claiming to keep your information secure wouldn’t do that, and even if you trust the entity on the other end of the message, you don’t have control over their email or computer security. That makes sending electronic records of your personal information a bad idea.
Americans lose billions of dollars to scams every year so don’t underestimate the importance of protecting yourself from financial loss or identity theft. Victims of financial fraud or identity theft may also see a negative impact on their credit standing, which can be time-consuming to correct. On top of exercising caution when engaging with others, regularly monitor your financial accounts and credit scores (you can get two free credit scores every month on Credit.com) for signs of suspicious activity. Any large, unexpected changes in your scores could signal identity theft and you should pull your full credit reports to confirm. You can get your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com, where this article originally posted.