Scams are everywhere these days. While the story may change, the tactics and goals of scammers remain the same: to steal your personal information for profit. Learn how to identify scams and protect yourself from theft below.
Common Phone Scams
290 Registration Scam
The scammer claims they are with a police department or a Sheriff's Office. The scammer tells the victim that they are out of compliance with current PC 290 registration requirements. The scammer then instructs the victim to purchase pre-paid cards, gift cards, or business voucher, then pass the card information to the scammer in order to come into compliance, or face arrest.
The scammer claims they are with a police department or a Sheriff's Office. The scammer tells the victim that their loved one is in jail and needs their help to post bail. The scammer then instructs the resident to purchase pre-paid cards or gift cards, then pass along the code located on the back of the card to the scammer.
Consumer Survey Contest Scam
The scammer claims to be with a law firm and tells the victim that they have won some sort of consumer survey contest. The scammer tells the victim that they will be delivering the check to the victim's home and is able to provide the victim's actual address. The scammer tells the victim that they need to first complete some paperwork and asks for personal information including income source information and current balance in the victim's bank account.
The scammer claims to be with DIRECTV and tells the victim that DIRECTV needed to upgrade the victim’s television equipment. To complete the upgrade, the victim is instructed to turn off their television and pay a large amount of money via credit card. The scammer tells the victim that they will get their money back through a discount on their monthly bill. The scammer may even be able to provide the victim with the victim's DIRECTV account number and their total paid each month.
This scam targets older victims. The caller claims to be the victim's grandchild. The caller tells the victim that the "grandchild" had went on a trip out of the country and while there had been arrested. Another scammer may then get on the phone and demand the victim send cash to prevent the grandchild from being put into prison. The scammers instruct the victim to not contact anyone else, place the cash into envelopes tucked inside of magazines, and overnight the packages to an out-of-state address.
In other versions of this scam, the fake grandchild may claim to have become injured and requests money for medical care.
HCSO Fallen Officers Fundraiser Scam
The scammer claims they are from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and may use several different names, including the name of current HCSO employees. The scammer tells the victim that they are raising funds for fallen officers and would like the victim to make a donation. The scammer may tell the victim that they will send an envelope to use to make the donation.
HCSO Warrants Scam
The scammer claims they are from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and may use several different names, including the name of current HCSO employees, such as Lt. Kevin Miller and Investigator Scott Hicks. The caller tells the victim that they had warrants for their arrest (may be for a variety of reasons, including missing jury duty or a criminal violation) and would be arrested immediately unless they sent money to the scammer.
In other versions of this scam, the scammer tells victims that Sheriff’s deputies would be responding to their homes to arrest them if they did not pay a fine using Green Dot pre-paid cards or Amazon gift cards. The scammers may even call back with a local number similar to that of the Sheriff's substations or main station.
The scammer may call multiple times and leave voicemails for the victim. On the call, the victim may hear a child crying. The scammer says that they are holding the child against their will and demand ransom be paid to free the child. The scammer may even use your child or family member's information. The scammer demands the victim stay on the phone and not hang up or tell anyone.
According to the FBI, this type of scam has been circulating the United States for at least two decades and can cause victims to lose thousands of dollars.
A scammer, whose caller ID may appear as a legitimate pharmacy, tells the victim that they are with a local pharmacy and had trouble filling the victim’s prescription. The scammer asks the victim to disclose personal information in order to fill the prescription.
Publishers Clearing House Scam
The scammer claims to be with Publishers Clearing House and tells the victim that they have won a car or other high-value prize. The scammer requests the victim pay a portion of the taxes on the prize. The scammer requests personal information and instructs the victim to not tell anyone about the interaction.
In some variations of this scam, the scammers may even offer to pick the victim up from their residence and drive them to the bank to withdraw the cash for taxes. The scammers tell the victim that they will give the victim a cashier’s check for the false prize money after receiving the cash.
Social Security Investigation Scam
The scammer claims to be a Social Security investigator (or a law enforcement official) and threatens to “shut off” the victim's Social Security card (or number), or cancel Social Security benefits due to criminal activity or a law enforcement investigation. The scammer tells the victim that no law enforcement action would be taken or that benefits would be restored if the victim mails money or provides payment immediately. The scammer may even ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information from victims.
Common Mail Scams
Fake Check Scam
The victim receives an unsolicited parcel in the mail containing a Cashier’s Check for a large amount of money made out to the victim and a letter with the U.S. Postal Service logo. The letter tells the recipient that they have been selected to participate in a consumer research survey evaluating their local Post Office branch. The letter instructs the recipient to cash the check at the bank and then go to the local post office to purchase four $1,000 money orders. The recipient is then instructed to contact a phone number for instructions on how and where to send the money orders. The letter states that the recipient can keep whatever money that is left over as commission and transportation earnings.
Common Email Scams
The victim receives an unsolicited email that claims the victim’s computer has been hacked into and their webcam activated without the victim’s knowledge. The email goes on to say that the hacker has video of the victim accessing adult websites and will distribute that video to the victim’s contact list if the victim doesn’t send a large amount of bitcoin to the hacker.
This email is a blackmail scam that has been circulating the nation over the past year. In some variations of the scam, the sender is able to provide a password you have used or are currently using, making the scam more realistic.
The victim receives an unsolicited email from a subscription based service (Netflix, Spotify, etc.) that says their account will be suspended due to an error processing the victim's payment method. The email provides a link in which the victim can update their payment information. The link then sends the victim to a "spoof" site, that may look exactly like the website of the subscription service, and prompts the victim to enter credit card and other personal information.
Common Social Media Scams
Costco Voucher Scam
A social media post claims that Costco is offering a free $75 coupon in celebration of the company's anniversary to users who click particular links and follow the instructions found there. Those who follow such instructions are then led into a set of pages prompting them to input a fair amount of personal information (including name, age, address, and phone numbers), complete a lengthy series of surveys, and finally sign up (and commit to paying) for at least two “Reward Offers” (e.g., Netflix subscriptions, credit report monitoring services, prepaid credit cards)
Book Exchange Scam
A friend on social media may post or share a variation of the following:
- The post states that the friend is participating in a book exchange and solicits participants.
- Participants are told to send a book to one person and they will receive "36" or more books back.
This is a pyramid scheme and it is illegal in the United States. While you may receive one book, depending on where you are in the chain, it is mathematically impossible that you will receive 36- and even more likely that you will receive nothing at all.
Secret Sister Gift Exchange Scam
A friend on social media may post or share a variation of the following:
- The post states that the friend is participating in a secret sister gift exchange and solicits participants.
- Participants are told to send a gift (worth at least $10) to one person and they will receive "36" or more gifts back.
This is a pyramid scheme and it is illegal in the United States. While you may receive one gift, depending on where you are in the chain, it is mathematically impossible that you will receive 36- and even more likely that you will receive nothing at all.
Work from Home Job Scam
A social media post claims that a company is hiring for a remote, "work from home" position. You may under go an interview and then be offered the job. The scammer then requires you to purchase equipment or send money to them in order to begin the job.
Keep an eye out for these red flags to see if a remote job offer is legitimate:
- The job is too good to be true: The job offers high pay for little or no work.
- There is little information on the company online.
- A second contact cannot confirm the legitimacy of the job offer: Call the company’s HR department to make sure that they really did send you the offer or really do have that job opening.
- There are warnings online: Always research the company and reviews before submitting information.
- You're required to pay upfront for training, certifications, directories, materials, or equipment.
- The employer communicates poorly: Communication with a legitimate employer should not contain spelling and grammar errors or exhibit unprofessional behavior.
- The job offer comes from an unfamiliar email address not associated with the company: A legitimate job recruitment email will most likely come from an email address from the specific company.
- The company wants you to apply through Facebook or in an unusual way: Most major companies will list their job openings in the “Careers” section of their website. If the position is not listed on the company’s site, it may be a scam.
Protect Yourself from Theft
- Spot imposters
Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company with which you do business. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request – whether it comes as a text, a phone call or an email. If a scammer is impersonating a loved one or government official, call back at a publicly listed number for the organization from which the scammer claims to be or contact your loved one directly.
- Do online searches
Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “Social Security call” or “grandparent scam.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
- Don’t believe your caller ID
Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up.
- Talk to someone
Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.
- Don’t rely on personal information
Living in the digital age, access to information is easier than ever. Scammers are often able to get their hands on very personal information, including the names, ages, and addresses of your loved ones, providing it to their victims to make their scam look more legitimate. Don’t trust a scammer who is able to provide your or your loved one’s personal information.
Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s scam alerts at ftc.gov/scams.
Visit https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds#item-35157 to learn how to report scams.