8 Financial Scams to Watch Out For

by Karen Gibbs |January 29, 2019

When 83-year-old Dottie W. of New Orleans, LA, received a call from her grandson asking for $3,000 or else he'd end up in jail, she didn't think twice about wiring him the money.

Only after she checked with her grandson to make sure he received the cash did Dottie realize she'd been scammed.

Although a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that millennials outnumbered seniors in reporting a loss due to a financial scam, millennials lost an average of $400 while seniors lost $1,092. Today's scammers are devious and ubiquitous — and often target seniors like Dottie, a smart woman who never expected to fall for a phone scam. That's why education, prevention and vigilance are the best ways to protect yourself. Here are some of the more prevalent financial scams to be aware of and how to handle them.

1. Sweetheart scams

How they work: Scammers capitalize on the popularity of dating sites by establishing online relationships with victims. Once they gain your friendship and confidence, they ask for money or private, sensitive information.

What to do: Only accept friend requests from people you know, and be careful with online friendships. Hit delete if your "friend" asks too many personal questions or requests to borrow money.

2. Grandparent cons

How they work: Someone posing as a relative (like Dottie's "grandson") sends an email or calls you saying he or she is in trouble and needs you to wire money right away. The scammer asks you not to tell anyone and directs you to a neighborhood location to transfer or send the funds.

What to do: No matter how convincing it sounds, don't fall for this tale of woe. Notify police immediately and provide them with the details for wiring the money, if you have it.

3. IRS frauds

How they work: Beware of calls, letters and emails from fake IRS agents about bogus tax bills. They use the authority of the agency to scare their victims into verifying personal information, such as your Social Security number or birth date, or providing or confirming financial information like your bank's routing number or a credit card number.

What to do: Hang up if you receive such a phone call. The IRS will never ask for such information or for any payment over the phone or in an email. If you receive a letter from the IRS, do not call the number on the letter. Instead, do a quick online search for the phone number of the IRS, and call that one to find out if the letter is valid.

4. Telephone scams

How they work: Scammers call selling fake products or pretending to be customer service representatives. What they're really after is your financial and personal information. They're masters at dialogue and will try to keep you on the phone to win your trust.

What to do: Hang up immediately. Unless you initiate the call, do not buy anything over the phone and consider placing your number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Better yet, stop answering the phone. The Federal Trade Commission report cited the telephone as the method of contact for 70% of fraud reports that listed a contact method.

"If you don't know exactly who is calling you, let the phone call go to voicemail," says Amy Nofziger, director of regional operations at the AARP Foundation. "The majority of people we work with are victimized over the phone. Scammers won't usually leave messages, but people who have a legitimate reason to contact you will leave a message."

African American woman on a cell phone

5. Lottery/Sweepstakes hoaxes

How they work: Someone contacts you about winning the lottery or a sweepstakes. And, to claim the prize, the caller asks you to pay a processing fee by sending money, paying with credit card or debit card from your checking account. The caller may also ask you to confirm personal information like your credit card account numbers, birth date or Social Security number.

What to do: Don’t fall for this one — legitimate promotions never ask you to pay to receive a prize. Report this to your local authorities.

6. Email/Text ploys

How they work: These scams inform you that a company’s website has been hacked or that the company needs to update your information. You get directed to a fake website that looks official and very similar to the real one, and are asked to enter your password or re-enter personal information.

What to do: Only click on links within emails from senders you know. When in doubt, contact the company directly using the phone number on a statement or on their website.

Legitimate promotions never ask you to pay to receive a prize. Report this to your local authorities.  

7. Fake fundraisers

How they work: Scammers know that people are particularly generous around the holidays, so they often pose as representatives with a charity or other organization seeking donations. They typically ask that you give money by using a credit card or a direct debit from your checking account. They don't accept mail-in donations, citing that the cause is urgent and needs your immediate attention.

What to do: Be certain you are interfacing with the charity when donating over the phone or online, whether it's to police organizations or a cancer-fighting cause. To be on the safe side, consider looking up the group's physical address and mailing your donations directly.

8. Delivery gimmicks

How they work: A person poses as a florist and shows up at your door with a bouquet of flowers or some other gift someone "sent" you. But in order to collect the gift, you must pay a small handling fee (usually a few dollars), payable only by credit card.

What to do: A beautiful bouquet for a few dollars? What's the problem? Plenty, it turns out. In this ploy, the scammer "skims" your credit card information during what appears to be a normal transaction. Skimming refers to the act of capturing the information stored in a credit card's magnetic stripe. Criminals use a small device to steal that information when a card is swiped. Never accept any delivery that requires you to pay a fee unless you ordered it C.O.D. (cash on delivery).

Man with white hair and a white beard in an orange sweater sits in a chair with a laptop in his lap

Finally, if you do become a victim of a scam, don't feel ashamed. Report it to your local police and notify your bank and credit card companies immediately. And be sure to alert family and friends so they don't fall prey, too.

Karen Gibbs

is a freelance journalist, regular contributor to Today.com and content creator for brands such as Procter & Gamble and Bed Bath & Beyond.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.