Five ways to tell if you’re being scammed

Every year scam artists trick millions of people in the United States into sending them money or sharing personal information. There may be little you can do to completely avoid scammers, but you can avoid becoming victimized by learning how to recognize the most common scams.

There are hundreds of variations on the details, but most scams include one or more of these elements: money, personal information, unbelievably good luck, pressure to act, and fear. If you can learn to recognize these common elements, you stand a better chance of spotting an online scam before you fall prey to it.

Many scams have the following things in common

It involves money. One common scam involves people who send you too much money and want you to wire some of it back. Another trick is to ask you to buy pre-paid gift cards and share the information on the back of the card. One thing is for sure: If money is involved, be skeptical.

They want your personal information. Next to money, scammers want your personal information so they can steal your identity and sell it on the black market or use it to take out loans and credit cards. Never give your personal information to strangers. Lotteries don’t need to direct deposit your “winnings.” That guy you met online (but who can’t seem to meet up in person) doesn’t need to know your mother’s maiden name.

This is particularly tricky if you’ve landed a work-from-home job. A legitimate employer does need your social security number, so make sure you’ve fully vetted any online employers before you share your SSN and direct deposit information.

It sounds too good to be true. Scammers look to take advantage of people who want to get rich quick with minimal effort. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If they’re asking for money, personal information or want you to install software on your computer, there’s probably a catch.

You must act fast. Scammers can’t wait around for you to wise up to their tricks, they need you to act now. This is especially true for scams that involve checks, money wires and pre-paid cards. If you receive a check from a stranger with instructions to deposit the check into your account and wire a portion to someone, don’t do it. When you deposit a check, federal law requires that at least some portion of the funds is made available to you in 1-5 days, but the actual processing takes longer. It can takes weeks before you know if the check is bad. Scammers will try to get you to act before the check bounces.

You need to be afraid. Some scams will try to frighten you into handing over money or personal information. They may claim you’re delinquent on paying your taxes, there’s a problem with your computer, your grandchild is in jail or you’re in trouble for downloading pirated movies or music. They will try to use fear to trick you into paying a fine or downloading their software.

If you have fallen victim to a scam, call your local law enforcement and file a complaint with the National Consumers League fraud website:

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