Scammers use a variety of methods to try to steal your personal and financial information. They often try to make you feel comfortable with giving up your sensitive information by spoofing trusted logos of legitimate companies in an email or by pretending to be a family member or friend on the phone.
Phishing is when a scammer uses fake email, text messages, or copycat websites to try to steal your identity or personal information, such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, debit card PINs, and account passwords. The scammer may state that your account has been compromised or that one of your accounts was charged incorrectly.
A scammer will instruct you to click on a link in the email or reply with your bank account number to confirm your identity or verify your account. They will sometimes threaten to disable your account if you don't reply, but don't believe it. Legitimate companies never ask for your password or account number by email.
Report Phishing Scams
Forward phishing email messages to firstname.lastname@example.org or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Include the full email header of the scam message in your report. Find out how to do this by searching online for the name of your email service and the words “full email header.”
How to Protect Yourself
Here are some ways to protect yourself from phishing scams:
Reach out if you’re unsure - If you believe that a company needs personal information from you, call the number from their legitimate website or your address book. Do not call the number or use the links in the email. Tell the customer service representative about the request and ask if your account has been compromised.
Turn on two-factor authentication - If your account supports it, you can set it up to require your password and an additional piece of information (code sent to your phone or a random number generated by an app) when you log in. This protects your account even when your password has been stolen.
Don't click on any links or attachments in the email - Any links, attachments, or phone numbers that you click on may contain a virus that can harm your computer. Even if links in the email say the name of the company, don't trust them. They may redirect to a fake website.
Vishing and Smishing
Similar to phishing, vishing (voice and phishing) and smishing (SMS texting and phishing) scammers also seek to steal your personal information. However, these scams target your mobile or landline phone instead of your computer. You may be directed to call a phone number to verify an account or to reactivate a debit or credit card.
Report Vishing and Smishing Scams
If you have received one of these requests, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Your complaint will be forwarded to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement. You will need to contact your credit card company directly to notify them if you are disputing unauthorized charges on your card from scammers, or if you suspect your credit card number has been compromised.
Victims of these scams could also become victims 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. However, 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.
Even if your phone number is on the Do Not Call Registry, scammers and robocallers may still call you.
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. Look for information on how to opt-out of marketing lists on sales materials, order forms, emails, and websites.
- Contact the Data & Marketing Association to sign up for their mail preference service. This will allow you to 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's Opt-Out Program lets you stop receiving credit card and insurance offers. All major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion) participate in this program. Register online or call 1-888-567-8688 to opt-out of receiving these offers 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 prevent, or stop, receiving sexually oriented advertising in your mail.
- If you have previously completed a request to opt-out from receiving firm (pre-screened and pre-approved) offers for credit or insurance, you must complete a request to opt-in to begin receiving offers again.
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
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.
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
Reporting scams to federal agencies helps them collect evidence for lawsuits against people committing these scams. However, federal agencies don’t investigate individual cases of telephone scams.
Also report the scam to your state consumer protection office. Some consumer protection offices help residents resolve consumer problems.
How to Protect Yourself
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.”
Research business opportunities, charities, or travel packages separately from the information the caller has provided.
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 to use 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 the caller tells you to wire money or pay with a prepaid debit card.
Do you need help?
Ask us any question about the U.S. government for free.
We'll get you the answer or tell you where to find it.
Last Updated: February 27, 2019