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Common Scams and Frauds
Find information on common scams and frauds that can happen to you.
Every year, thousands of people lose their money and personal information to telephone scams. Typically, phone scammers will try to sell you something you hadn't planned to buy and will pressure you to give up personal information, like your credit card details or Social Security number.
Common Phone Scams
In telemarketing fraud, phone scammers will often use exaggerated—or even fake—prizes, products, and services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, text, or ads to get you to call them for more details. Types of phone scams include:
Travel packages - "Free" or "low-cost" vacations can end up costing a fortune in hidden costs.
Fake business and investment opportunities - As business and investing can be complicated, scammers take advantage of people not researching the investment.
Charitable causes - Many phone scams involve urgent requests for recent disaster relief efforts.
National Do Not Call List
Avoid phone scams by registering your home and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry or by calling 1-888-382-1222. This national registry was created to offer consumers a choice regarding telemarketing calls. It won't stop all unsolicited calls, but will help stop most.
Report Telephone Fraud
If you believe you have been a victim of a telephone scam or telemarketing fraud, you can file an online complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.
Scam artists use different types of fraud to try to trick people out of their money. Two common types of fraud are banking scams and investment scams.
Popular banking scams include:
fake check scams, where a scam artist creates counterfeit checks that look legitimate, with watermarks, routing numbers, and the names of real financial institutions. They then try to deposit them in banks, use them as part of other frauds against consumers, or use them to pay companies for products or services.
unsolicited check fraud, where a scammer may send you a check that you didn't have a legitimate reason to receive. Unfortunately, if you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items you didn't ask for, signing up for a loan, or something else you didn't ask for. The Federal Trade Commission offers tips to help you avoid being a victim of these scams, and recommends what to do if you have been a victim.
automatic withdrawals. A company sets up automatic withdrawals from your account that you didn’t approve.
phishing. Email messages that ask you to verify your bank account number or debit card PIN. By clicking on the link or replying to the email with your account number, you are giving a scammer access to your financial accounts.
Not all organizations that claim to be charities or help people are reputable. Some scam artists set up fake organizations, taking advantage of the public’s generosity immediately after a tragedy or major disaster. Follow these tips to help you detect common charity scam tactics:
Tickets for popular concerts, plays, and sporting events can be expensive and sell out quickly, making it hard to support your favorite artists and teams. While there are still scalpers outside of venues, there are many other ticket selling scams online. Some ticket resellers take advantage of buyers' hopes to attend an event, charging tickets at prices much higher than the face value, especially if the event is already sold out. Some scammers sell counterfeit tickets, with forged barcodes and logos of real ticket companies. Others sell duplicates of legitimate tickets to multiple buyers, often as electronic tickets that they e-mail. When these buyers with the same duplicate ticket number try to enter the event, some of them are denied entrance.
Before you buy tickets from a third party seller:
Try to buy from authorized brokers and third party sellers that can guarantee the validity of the ticket.
Be especially careful of buying event tickets from online classifieds.
If you use an online search engine or social media to locate tickets, be aware that the first search result may be a paid ad that charges excessive fees, rather than a reputable seller.
Check the actual web address for the resale website; some scammers create phony websites that closely resemble authentic ticket websites.
Research the seller's name, e-mail address, and phone number, along with the words "fraud," "scams," and "fake tickets" to see if there are negative reviews.
Find out if the seller guarantees the ticket.
Get contact information for the seller, in case there is a problem with the ticket.
Before you buy, verify the section and seat number on the venue's seating chart to make sure that the seat actually exists and that you'll have a clear view.
Use a credit card to pay third party sellers, instead of wiring cash. You can dispute the ticket purchase with your credit card company if there are problems.
Check the date, time, and location printed on the ticket to make sure they match the date of the event.
Not all lotteries and sweepstakes are legitimate. Before you participate, keep these tips in mind:
Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities.
Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay to collect your winnings.
Scam operators use the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in foreign lotteries. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.
Read these tips from the Federal Trade Commission for more information about bogus lotteries and sweepstakes.
A pyramid scheme, also known as Ponzi scheme, is an illegal form of multilevel marketing. In these programs, your ability to earn profits is based on the number of new participants you recruit, instead of the amount of products or services you sell. Sometimes there actually aren't any real products that are being sold. These types of schemes are common with investment and independent direct selling opportunities.
These schemes rely on the income from new participants in order to pay fake "profits" to people that have been part of the scheme for longer amounts of time. However, the scheme falls apart when there aren't enough new recruits to pay into the system, so the earlier participants no longer receive earnings.
Tips to Avoid Being a Victim
Take steps to protect yourself from being a victim of a pyramid scheme:
Be wary of "opportunities" to invest your money in franchises or investments that require you to bring in more investors to increase your profit, or recoup your initial investment.
The U.S. Census Bureau is the federal agency responsible for collecting data about the people and economy of the United States. It must collect some personal and demographic information from people and businesses to do this research.
Some scam artists may act as if they work for the U.S. Census Bureau to collect personal information about you to use for fraud, including stealing your identity. These scam artists may send you letters that seem like official letters from the U.S. Census Bureau, or they may come to your home to try to collect information about you.