You’re sitting at home when you receive a phone call. It’s the IRS saying that you’re due an extra tax refund due to changes to the tax code. That’s great news! Who doesn’t want more money? You give them your bank information so that they can transfer the money back into your account.

Three days later, you find your account drained by thieves. You’ve been duped by a scammer. How could you have prevented this? We sat down with Sheba Wallish of SHERPA® Identity Protection and Brenda Walker of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, to discuss the signs of a scam.

Since the publication of this article, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association changed its name to CrossState Credit Union Association.

The Old Smell Test

As we mentioned in our first interview with the SHERPA® team , the best way to detect a scam is by going with your gut. Does something seem off? If it doesn’t smell right, cautiousness is the best strategy. If you’ve been contacted by someone pressuring you to divulge information or make a commitment you don’t want to, hang up the phone or delete the email.

If it sounds suspicious, it probably is. It’s that gut feeling that it just doesn’t quite seem right. — Sheba Wallish

This also goes for a deal that seems too good to be true. If someone is telling you that you’ve won a drawing you never entered, that’s fishy. Even in the case of our tax refund example, the IRS will not contact you directly. In most cases, you’ll receive a letter from the IRS that you can verify is actually from them.

Are They Asking for Sensitive Information or Money?

A legitimate organization will never initiate contact with you to ask for personal information they should already have. If a company is pushing for personal or financial details, take a step back and ask yourself why they are asking for that information. If it makes sense for them to know personal details about you (like the IRS or your bank), they should already have it. If it doesn’t make sense, why are they asking for it?

Fraudulent organizations may claim you’ve won a cash prize yet require a small transaction fee in order to receive your prize. This should raise a red flag, especially in scenarios when you never entered to win any prize.

Finally, beware of anyone requesting that you pay them in prepaid gift cards. Scammers like gift cards because they’re harder to trace than bank transfers or personal checks.

If they’re asking you to withdraw money, to buy gift cards, to provide personal information over the phone, unsolicited, that’s not normal. That’s a concern. — Brenda Walker

In any case, be careful who you share personal information or money with. Before you do, make sure that you trust the recipient, and do a little research if you aren’t sure.

You Haven’t Heard of Them or Their Is Name Off

Rarely will a scammer contact you as some random person. In most cases, they will claim to be with a company or organization to get you to trust them. They may also use a name that’s very close to a famous charity, like in the case of the Children’s Cancer Fund of America, which tried to connect itself with the American Cancer Society.

Even if they are from a real charity, it pays to research. The Wounded Warrior Project was fraudulently represented by an individual named Shane Buckley. Using the charity’s name, he stole money from generous citizens in the Atlanta area. If you receive a fundraising email, check the links before you click. You can do this by hovering your mouse over the blue hyperlink and comparing the address with a Google search for that organization.

Clever fraudsters will use realistic-looking links to send you to illegitimate sites, so it’s important to check the website’s address.

You’re Talking to a Scammer. Now What?

If you find yourself talking to an unsolicited scammer, end the conversation ASAP. If you have the who and what of the scam, that’s enough to make an official complaint.

That’s the next step. Head over to the Federal Trade Commission to file a consumer complaint. The form will give you several subcategories to choose from to help you give the most accurate report possible.

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You don’t have to become a victim of scammers. Be vigilant for the signs of a scam, and you’re well on your way to staying scam-safe.

To learn more about scams and how you can protect yourself, check out our first interview with Wallish and Walker in “How Can I Protect Myself from Scams?

Further Reading — Get Scam Alert
The Shop & Enroll Blog — How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft