No one is safe from scams. Criminals are constantly altering them to fit the latest headlines, target our insecurities, and get through the most advanced BS detectors.
How to spot online, text and phone scams
We include a printable guide to put next to your child’s or parents’ computer, or to keep handy as a reminder for yourself.
Have “the conversation” with family members
Don’t assume that the people you know know how to recognize or respond to scams. Even teenagers, who we often assume are the most Internet savvy, are vulnerable. Make sure your family members know they can come to you at any time to check on a direct message or suspicious phone call. There is a lot of shame and embarrassment associated with “falling” for a scam, but this type of deception is like any other crime and is not the victim’s fault.
Change these settings to minimize the risk of scams
Make it much harder for cybercriminals to target you or your family members by changing the basic settings. Not everyone will need or want all of these protections.
Make social networks private: Set your Facebook, Twitter and other social media profiles to private. If you need a public profile, delete information such as your location information and contact information.
Facebook: Limit who can see your friends list or find your profile. A common scam is to create a fake profile of a real person you know and then message you asking for money. In Facebook, go to Settings and Privacy → Followers and Public Content → select “Who can see the people, pages, and lists you follow?” Select Friends or Only me.
Messenger: Tap your profile picture and select Privacy → Message delivery. Under Other people, click Other on Facebook and select Do not receive requests. Do the same for others on Instagram. Under the Potential Connections section, set the categories to Do Not Receive Requests or Message Requests to limit the number of connection attempts that can message you directly.
WhatsApp : Go to Settings → Account → Privacy and limit who can add you to groups and who can see information such as your status and personal information.
Telephone number : Make sure known contacts are added to the phone’s address books so that it’s easier to ignore unknown numbers. Then send unknown callers to voicemail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. On an iPhone, go to Settings → Phone → Mute unknown callers. This will send anyone you’ve never communicated with directly to voicemail. On an Android device, open the Phone app, locate the menu button (it looks like three dots), tap it, then tap Settings. Most phones will have options for blocking numbers and caller ID/spam protection, although they often go by different names. (If you’re using voicemail to screen calls, make sure outgoing message is set up and your inbox isn’t full.)
Maximize your privacy: Most devices and apps have privacy settings that you need to turn on. Check out our privacy reset guide.
Improve your security: To make sure all your accounts are as secure as possible, read our Security Reset Guide.
Scammers love to use the news, whether it’s the pandemic or aid to Ukraine. For example, within 24 hours of President Biden announcing a program to cancel certain student loans, the Federal Trade Commission issued a warning about student loan scams.
Knowledge what new scams are trending will be too helps you quickly spot shady activity. You can get updates on the latest scams on sites like Fraud.org. The FTC does a great job of issuing timely consumer alerts, and AARP’s fraud site is also full of resources.
Suppose people or companies are not who they say they are
It’s easy to imitate a real person or organization. Make it your first instinct to ask yourself: are they who they say they are? If in doubt, go to the next step.
Check while using a different channel
To confirm that a person or business is who they say they are, you need to find a different method of contact. Do not rely on the contact information included in the original message; instead find the best way to contact the company on your own, such as finding and using an official customer service number on a company’s website. If you’re not sure, ask a friend or family member. If you don’t have anyone to call, AARP has a number anyone can call to inquire about a possible scam: 877-908-3360.
“Verify, validate, verify. If you received a Facebook message, text the person. Got a phone call? Call the bank,” says Caroline Wong, chief strategy officer at cybersecurity firm Cobalt. “Identify a different channel than the one in which you send the message.”
Don’t answer, don’t click on links, don’t answer the call
Do not engage in possible scams, even if you are curious. This includes not clicking on links from contacts you don’t know. Received a text message claiming to be from UPS about a package? Go to the official UPS website instead.
Find the sender’s phone number, email address or URLs
Look for all the details that will tell you that a post is fake and google it if you’re not sure. This includes an email address that doesn’t have the correct domain (such as a message claiming to be from Apple but not Apple.com), a link that goes somewhere it shouldn’t, or a phone number that You’ve never seen. On social networks or messaging apps, click on profiles to see if they were created recently and if they look real.
Are you worried about being rude? have a script
If you don’t feel comfortable just hanging up on a stranger or consider it rude, have a decline script ready to go, says Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support at the AARP. It can be as simple as “I don’t do business over the phone, thanks for calling”.
Memorize the signs that something is a scam
You did not initiate the conversation: If a text, direct message, email, or call comes out of nowhere, it’s much more likely to be a scam.
You have won something: Sorry, you haven’t won anything. Ignore messages that say you’ve won money or prizes or are getting a refund.
You are panicked: Criminals want you to believe there is an emergency. If they can get you to act without slowing down and thinking critically, there’s a better chance they’ll succeed. Look for signs within yourself, such as a rapid heartbeat or sweaty palms.
“The scammers want to create a sense of urgency. They want to get you to take action, to use that animal part of your brain that fight or flight,” says John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumers League advocacy group and director of Fraud.org.
This involves fast payment methods: “Criminals like their money to be quick, fast and untraceable,” said AARP’s Nofziger. Peer-to-peer payment apps are the current favorite because they allow money to be transferred instantly without leaving a trace, says Nofziger.
If a stranger asks you to pay them (or offers to pay you) in the following ways, it’s probably a scam: peer-to-peer apps such as Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, bank transfer, cards- prepaid gifts, cryptocurrency or cash. Also, don’t share your credit card number unless you’ve confirmed via a second contact form that the deal is legit.
There are payment complications: If someone tells you you owe money, or claims they have a problem with a transaction to or from you, investigate. In a popular Facebook Marketplace scam, criminals offer to pay on an app like Zelle, say there’s a problem, then ask for your email address so they can send a fake email and get your information. .
They want information: Not all scammers want money; some try to get your address, your usernames and passwords, or your social security number.
“Ultimately, scammers are looking for money or information that they can turn into money,” says Breyault.
Something is wrong : Your instinct is your best tool to avoid scams. If something is wrong, ask a family member, call the AARP hotline, or find another form of contact on your own and contact us to confirm if the open is legitimate.