The Sweet 16 techniques scammers use to swindle you out of your money


What are your fail-safe responses? There are two.

Would you know a scammer if you heard one? Probably not.

The old school thinking that scammers probably speak a foreign language is out the window now because artificial intelligence (AI) can mimic almost anyone, of any nationality. The one thing that remains constant, though, is the list of phrases scammers use to gain your attention and your trust. 

ConsumerAffairs struck a nerve with readers last year with our "12 phone numbers most used by scammers" and we thought it might be interesting to go down another rabbit hole to see if we could find some scammers’ phrase books, so you’re better prepared the next time one calls you up.

We found 16 come-ons that you should take the time to read about and prepare to guard against.

  1. "Can you hear me?" Yeah, it sounds like a dumb thing for someone to ask, but this phrase is now being used to prompt a "Yes" response, so a scammer can record your voice and use it to authorize fraudulent charges or changes to accounts.

  2. "Something is wrong." Alarming text messages are becoming a common opening act for scammers, Amalia Krantz, a fraud expert at Nordea, says.

    It usually starts with a text message from a popular brand or well-known company, a debt collection company, a bank or an electricity provider. The text message claims that something of some sort is wrong. Perhaps you made a mistake with a loan application or a recent purchase. To resolve the issue, there’s a phone number or a link in the message that you can click on to make everything right. 

    However, the phone number in the text message won’t take you anywhere close to the alleged company, but to the scammers. "Unfortunately, the scammers are really clever on the phone and sound confidence inspiring. The longer the phone call lasts, the greater the risk of falling for their trick," says Krantz.

  3. "Is this you?" Scammers often come out of the gate asking "Is this you?" or similar questions to confirm your identity or pique your curiosity. Sure, it's a vague question, but it’s one that could apply to several situations, making you more likely to respond. For example, it could be used to build trust. The scammer may follow up with a familiar scenario, such as an unusual purchase, a strange login attempt or a photo you don't recognize.

    The result is confusion and a sense of urgency and before you know it, you might be spouting off things they can use against you, but under the guise of helping you. Things like your name, address, or sensitive information like passwords or Social Security numbers. 

  4. "Your [account of any kind] has been suspended." Companies usually notify you through official mail or your account portal first, not on the phone.

  5. "We’ve determined that you owe money, and if you don’t pay it, it will result in legal action." No one likes the threat of legal action and scammers know it. They’ll pose as anyone in authority they can think of – law enforcement officers, debt collectors, etc. 

  6. "We met on [dating site], don't you remember?" One of the key components of a romance scam is to try to make you doubt your memory, aiming to build a fake sense of familiarity, but all they want is to set you up and trick you into sending money or sharing personal information. 

  7. "You’ve won!" Offers that seem too good to be true. If you “win” something, whatever it is that you win should be free of any strings. If someone calls with promises of vacations, prizes, or other incentives that require immediate payment or personal details, it’s a scammer on the other end.

  8. "You must act now or you'll miss out." Another “urgency” tactic used to pressure people into making hasty decisions without proper consideration or verification. “Scammers use urgency to pressure victims into making impulsive decisions without thinking things through,” Trevor Cooke, the online privacy expert at EarthWeb, said.

    "They may say something like, 'This is a limited-time offer, and you must act now or you'll miss out!’ Be cautious of any unsolicited communication that demands immediate action or threatens consequences for delay. Take your time to verify the offer’s legitimacy or request before taking action."

  9. "I’m from the government." Heads up, folks – benefit scams are at an all-time high. Callers are out en masse pretending to be from the IRS or another government agency, demanding payments or personal information. Just remember: the government doesn’t make such calls or ask for information like that over the phone.

  10. "This is your final notice." More urgency. Scammers want to make you panic and pay without thinking clearly. If there is a real “final notice,” you’re probably going to get a letter in the mail, not a phone call.

  11. "There's been suspicious activity on your account." This is meant to scare you into giving up information. Legitimate companies – banks, credit card companies, et al – rarely make those claims over an unsolicited call.

  12. "You need to send money now." By now, you probably know that anytime someone asks you to pay with a gift card is trouble. But so is "Wire the money immediately” or, the new con, "Use a cryptocurrency ATM." Every single one of these will leave you holding the bag and no way to get your money back.

  13. "XXX is calling." Scammers can manipulate caller ID to appear local or impersonate businesses you recognize. If your caller ID says “XXX Bank,” you’d be wise to let the call go to voicemail. Then, you can listen to the message and call the real number of the business that you look up on the web, BUT NOT the number that the caller asks you to call.

  14. "This is technical support." Yeah, right. Ask the scammer who tried to pretend he was with Amazon how successful his ruse was. You should only initiate support calls, never accept them out of the blue. Krantz says that it’s typical for scammers to set up various tech support scenarios to stress you even more.

    "This can be a virus, a cyber attack or something similar. To make it stop, you are urged to install an antivirus program or a screen sharing program that you get a link to via a text message. It is also common that you are urged to transfer your money to a ‘safe account.’" Kranz said.

  15. "We need you to confirm some personal or financial information." "Phishing scams often involve requests for personal or financial information under the guise of account verification or security checks," Cooke noted. "Legitimate organizations will never ask you to provide sensitive information such as passwords, Social Security numbers, or banking details via unsolicited calls or messages."

  16. "This is your security team, we need you to transfer money." Scammers may pose as a security team from a well-known company to create a sense of legitimacy and, yes, urgency. Again, remember it’s doubtful if any big company is going to call you unless you’ve engaged with them first. Not Microsoft, not Google, not Apple. 

To protect yourself from these scams

Short of never answering any call that comes your way, what are the smartest things you can do to protect yourself from scammers? 

The one thing that you can always count on is common sense. Asking yourself questions like why would Microsoft or Medicare call you, why would you have to pay a fee to get a prize, or why does someone need my Social Security number? 

In every single situation, your fail-safe best bets are a) to never click on a link or call a number sent in a text message or email; and b) thank the caller for their information and, then, look up the company or agency on the internet, find their real number, and call them directly. That, and only that, will get you an official answer as to what the caller is claiming. 

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