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3 Ways to Protect Yourself From the Latest Phone, Mail, and Online Scams

How to dodge the most common phone, online, and mail scams.


Fraud has reached a record high, with a surge in imposter scams and identity theft. Here, experts share how to protect yourself quickly and easily.

Spot mail fraud: Press pause

You get a letter revealing you won a prize, but first you need to buy something. “Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to pay to improve your chances,” says Kati Daffan of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Marketing Practices. From lottery to financial scams, the first thing con artists try to do is get folks under the ether, adds fraud expert Doug Shadel. “That’s a heightened emotional state.”

The best defense is to set it aside for a day to think about it.

Also smart: Protect what you send: It’s rare, but scammers can bleach the ink off a check and write something else. Just use a gel pen — it can’t be bleached.

Spot phone fraud: Ask about dessert

Imposter fraud — scammers pretending to be someone else — is on the rise. A common scam is a caller claiming to be from the IRS telling you that you owe taxes. And during the pandemic, there’s been a surge in scammers using texts to pose as a potential victim’s grandchild in need of money for a medical emergency. If you get a message from someone claiming to be a relative, ask questions the imposter wouldn’t know the answer to, like what’s their favorite dessert.

Also smart: Sidestep “neighbor spoofing”: Scammers often call from numbers that match the first three digits of your number so you trust it — just don’t answer.

Spot online fraud: Look for typos

Computer-related fraud has ticked up during the pandemic. This ranges from inheritance scams to phishing fraud — emails that may look like they’re from a company you know so you click a link. grammar,” such as misspellings and bad punctuation, like not capitalizing a proper name, as in “western union.” The best way to protect yourself is to look for “scammer

Also smart: Check the sender’s address before opening a dubious email — the supposedly familiar address may use .com instead of .net or vice versa.

More Telltale Red Flags That Something is a Scam

  • Sense of urgency. Scammers want you to act immediately. If you’re on the phone, for example, they’ll warn you not to hang up. To get off the phone quickly, consider creating what experts call a “refusal script” so you don’t have to think: “This isn’t a good time for me; thank you for calling,” and hang up.
  • Demand for payment. Would-be bad guys often insist that you pay them in a particular way, such as sending money through a wire transfer or by buying gift cards. The idea is that you will then call them and read the numbers on the back of the cards. If you hear these signals, just hang up the phone or walk away.
  • Social pressure. This is the “everybody’s doing it” argument: Scammers will say, “You can’t believe how many people are buying X or doing Y.” They’re counting on you to follow the crowd. Just knowing this tactic helps you spot them coming from a distance.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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