Money and Debt

Avoiding common scams

Scammers are always finding new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting people. Anyone can end up being a victim to scammers. Learn how to spot and protect yourself from common scams.

A note about COVID-19: Scammers use states of emergency to take advantage of fears. There is currently no cure or vaccination for COVID-19, according to the CDC. Scammers may try to sell you fake "miracle cures," get you to donate to fake charities, send you email phishing links or price gauge. Read more from the FTC to learn the latest on COVID-19 scams. 

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Understanding the Basics

See what you need to know to take action.

Common scams can change over time. In general, scammers will lie to you to get your money, personal information or both. For example, some scammers:

  • Steal information. Some scammers pretend to be technical support or computer repair people. They contact you with a fake warning that your computer has a virus or other problem. The scammer offers to fix it. Instead, they install a computer program that steals your information.
  • Lie about goods and services. Some scammers take your money but give you less than what they promised in return. For example, a scammer promises to fix your bad credit. Then, the scammer charges high fees, but does not actually help you.
  • Pretend to be someone you trust. Some scammers pretend to be someone you trust. For example, in the “grandparent scam,” a scammer claims to be your grandchild who needs money.
    Or, a scammer may “phish” for information by claiming to be a bank employee or government employee from the IRS or Social Security who needs your account or social security number. 
    Some scammers even spend time building a friendly or romantic relationship with you over the phone or online. This is called a “sweetheart scam.” Sweetheart scams can end with the victim sending thousands of dollars to the scammer to “help” with emergency medical, legal or travel costs.

How to spot a scam

Scammers pretend to be honest, but they want to take your money and valuable information. Watch out for these warning signs:

  • A stranger asks for money. Scammers often ask you to wire money or send gift cards. These methods make them hard to trace and make it hard to recover your money.
  • Someone asks for personal information. Scammers often ask for personal information like an account number or social security number.
  • Someone tells you to “act fast.” Scammers often pressure you to act quickly. Scammers may also ask you to keep secrets.

How to avoid being scammed

To avoid being scammed, you should:

  • Be suspicious. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of anyone who contacts you with offers that you do not expect. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and point out when something isn’t making sense. Only give money and information to people you trust. If you’re not comfortable, you can always stop the conversation.
  • Do research. To research an offer from a company, visit their official website or call their official number from the phone book. Research contractors by checking with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Better Business Bureau. If someone contacts you unexpectedly claiming to be a loved one, double check the story. For example, if someone claims to be your grandchild, contact someone else in your family to verify the emergency.
  • Get offers in writing. Get the exact cost and details of services in writing. Do not rely on verbal estimates.
  • Be careful on the internet. Do not allow remote access to your computer. Do not download unfamiliar programs or files. Never send money or personal information to someone you met online.
  • Watch out for financial scams. Never pay money to qualify for a loan, credit card or grant. If you need help with your credit, contact a nonprofit credit-counseling agency or your creditor  to discuss payment options.

If you become a scam victim

If you are a scam victim, you should:

If you live in Cuyahoga County, or if a scam takes place in Cuyahoga County, contact the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs’s Scam Squad at (216) 443-7035.

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