Skip to main content

Three Signs Something Might Be a Scam

Vector image of a hand holding a full wallet

There are many ways fraudsters try to get your personal information or separate you from your hard-earned money. One of the most popular schemes is through a phishing scam, in which fraudsters use links in emails or text messages to try to get you to share your valuable personal information.

With fraudsters constantly changing their tactics, it can be hard to keep track of the latest scams. But there are some common themes among the schemes. Here are three signs someone may be trying to scam you:

There’s a strong sense of urgency

Scammers may contact you acting as a representative of a government agency or company like the IRS, a utility provider or law enforcement officer. They may use a sense of urgency to get you to pay back taxes or an outstanding bill you don’t have. Fraudsters posing as a representative for a utility company may threaten to turn off your power immediately. In extreme cases, they may pretend to be a police officer claiming you have a warrant out for your arrest, and that paying a fine to them will prevent you from going to jail.

Putting people under pressure is a powerful ploy. It can feel overwhelming to be taken off guard by accusations like these. But communications and payments, especially from government agencies, are done through the mail and will not be requested over the phone. If you receive a phone call from a company you do business with requesting immediate payment, you can hang up and call the number on your billing statement to confirm if the request is legitimate.

The scammer requests you pay with a gift card

Just like the government won’t call and request immediate payment at the risk of prosecution, no legitimate company will ask you to pay using gift cards. Fraudsters like gift cards because they’re easy for victims to get and, unlike credit cards, they offer less protection against fraud. The scam usually involves victims getting one or multiple physical gift cards from a store and sharing the card number with the scammer over the phone. You can contact the card issuer if you suspect you’ve been scammed and request a refund, but getting money back is not guaranteed.

If a person calls you and requests a payment by an unusual method, like a gift card or cryptocurrency, there is a good chance they are perpetuating some sort of scam. Be wary even if they sound legitimate. Remember, if you’re unsure, you can always hang up and call the company directly with any questions you have.

It sounds too good to be true

It’s advice most know, but can be easy to ignore when you find the product you’ve wanted for a long time at an extreme discount. You may see heavily discounted prices on legitimate looking, but ultimately fake, websites. Scammers will use logos and graphics to make the website look like the actual retailer’s. However, the URL may be slightly different and there may be limited or no information about their physical location, contact information or return policies. The same caution should be used when shopping at online auction sites. If you have any inclination the price is too good to be true, the best thing to do is to not buy.

Similar to offering an unbeatable price, scammers like to take advantage of the dream of winning a major prize. They’ll contact you out of the blue and congratulate you on wining a prize or lottery. The catch is you have to send them money to receive your prize. According to the scammers, it may be to cover fees associated with processing your winnings. The truth is, the money is going into the scammer’s pocket.

Another tactic is to send you a fake check worth more than you won. Scammers will then ask you to send back the extra amount or overage back to them, sometimes in the form of gift cards as mentioned before. But there were no winnings to begin with, and you may have to repay your bank the amount of the fake check.

What to do if you’re scammed out of money

If you have been the victim of a scam, you can report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and report it to your local police department. The FTC also has a list of steps to take depending on how you paid the scammer. For instance, if you paid with a debit or credit card, you may be able to get your money back by contacting the bank and reporting the fraud.

It can be unnerving and embarrassing to be scammed. Anyone can be susceptible to fraudulent activity, especially as scammers continue to get savvier. The important thing is to act quickly and contact the proper authorities to help you get on the process to recovery. For more information, check out our Fraud Companion Guide to help you spot more signs of identity theft and help you recover after experiencing fraud. 

Disclaimer: The information posted to this blog was accurate at the time it was initially published. We do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided. The information contained in the TransUnion blog is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal or financial advice. You should consult your own attorney or financial adviser regarding your particular situation. For complete details of any product mentioned, visit This site is governed by the TransUnion Interactive privacy policy located here.

What You Need to Know:

The credit scores provided are based on the VantageScore® 3.0 model.  Lenders use a variety of credit scores and are likely to use a credit score different from VantageScore® 3.0 to assess your creditworthiness.

Subscription price is $29.95 per month (plus tax where applicable).