Scammers use a variety of methods to try to steal your personal and financial information. They use trusted logos of legitimate companies when sending email. Or, they pretend to be a family member or friend, so they can trick you into giving them sensitive information.
What is Phishing?
In phishing, scammers use fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to steal your identity or personal information. Their goal is to get credit card and bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords. The scammer may say your account has been compromised or charged incorrectly.
When they contact you, scammers will tell you to click on a link in their email. Or, they’ll ask you to give your bank account number to confirm your identity or verify your account. Sometimes, they may even threaten to disable your account if you don't reply. Don’t believe them. Legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number by email.
How to Protect Yourself from Phishing
Here are some ways to protect yourself from phishing scams:
Contact the company if you’re unsure. Don’t call the number or use the links in the email. Instead, find their legitimate website or check a bill or account statement for contact information. Tell a customer service representative about the email and ask if your account has been compromised.
Turn on two-factor authentication. This involves accessing an account or website online using your password and another piece of information. This could be a code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app. This protects your account even if your password has been stolen.
Report Phishing Scams
Forward phishing email messages to firstname.lastname@example.org or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Be sure to include the full email header of the fraudulent message. Learn how by searching online for the name of your email service and the words “full email header.”
What Are Vishing and Smishing?
Vishing (voice phishing) and smishing (SMS text phishing) are similar scams. Swindlers call or text, pretending to be with a company you know to steal your personal information. They may direct you to call a phone number to verify an account or to reactivate a debit or credit card.
Report Vishing and Smishing Scams
If you receive one of these requests, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). They’ll forward it to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. Also, contact your credit card company. Tell them if you’re disputing unauthorized charges made by scammers on your card, or if you suspect your card number was compromised.
You could also become a victim of identity (ID) theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to learn how to minimize your risk.
Register with the National Do Not Call Registry
The National Do Not Call Registry lets you limit the telemarketing calls you receive. Stop unwanted sales calls by registering your phone number:
If you register online, you will receive an email to complete your request. You must click on the link in that email within 72 hours in order for your registration to take effect. Visit DoNotCall.gov or call 1-888-382-1222 to verify the status of, or unsubscribe, your phone number on the registry.
Placing your phone number on this national registry will stop telemarketing sales calls. But you might still receive calls from scammers and robocallers. Some telemarketing calls are still permitted. You may still receive phone calls from:
- Political organizations
- Telephone surveyors
- Some organizations with which you have a relationship
Some states have their own Do Not Call registries. Contact your state consumer protection office to find out if your state has its own Do Not Call list and how you can add yourself to it.
File a Complaint
You may file a complaint if your phone number has been on the national registry for 31 days. File a complaint online or at 1-888-382-1222. Include the date of the illegal call, phone number, and the company's name in your complaint. You can also file a complaint about recorded messages or robocalls.
Visit the telemarketer website if you want to subscribe to the Do Not Call Registry. Representatives of telemarketing companies can also get information on compliance issues on the website.
You can take several actions to stop the delivery of unwanted mail in your mailbox.
- Tell companies you do business with to remove your name from customer lists they rent or sell to other companies. Find out how to opt-out of marketing lists on sales materials, order forms, emails, and websites.
- Sign up for the Data & Marketing Association's mail preference service. This will remove your name from most national telemarketing, mail, and email lists. Register online for $2 or by sending the registration form and $3 fee through postal mail.
- The Consumer Credit Reporting Industry has an Opt-Out Program. Register with this program to stop receiving credit card and insurance offers. All major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion) take part in this program. Register online or call 1-888-567-8688 to opt-out for five years. You must register online if you want to opt-out out of these offers permanently.
- Complete and file a PS Form 1500 at the Post Office to stop receiving sexually oriented advertising in your mail.
If you've already opted out for credit or insurance offers, and would like to begin receiving them again, you must complete a request to opt-in.
Remember, opting-out will not end all mail solicitations. You may still receive mail from:
- Local merchants
- Religious and charitable organizations
- Professional and alumni associations
- Companies with which you do business
Telephone scammers try to steal your money or personal information. Scams may come through phone calls from real people, robocalls, or text messages. The callers often make false promises, such as opportunities to buy products, invest your money, or receive free product trials. They may also offer you money through free grants and lotteries. Some scammers may call with threats of jail or lawsuits if you don’t pay them.
Report Telephone Scams
It's important to report phone scams to federal agencies. They can’t investigate individual cases. But your report can help them collect evidence for lawsuits against scammers.
For more help in resolving consumer issues, you can report scams to your state consumer protection office.
Protect Yourself From Telephone Scams
Remember these tips to avoid being a victim of a telephone scam:
Register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. You may register online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you still receive telemarketing calls after registering, there’s a good chance that the calls are scams.
Be wary of callers claiming that you’ve won a prize or vacation package.
Hang up on suspicious phone calls.
Be cautious of caller ID. Scammers can change the phone number that shows up on your caller ID screen. This is called “spoofing.”
Independently research business opportunities, charities, or travel packages being offered by the caller.
Don’t give in to pressure to take immediate action.
Don’t say anything if a caller starts the call asking, “Can you hear me?” This is a common tactic for scammers to record you saying “yes.” Scammers record your “yes” response and use it as proof that you agreed to a purchase or credit card charge.
Don’t provide your credit card number, bank account information, or other personal information to a caller.
Don’t send money if a caller tells you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card.
Do you have a question?
Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They'll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.
Last Updated: May 15, 2020