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Tips for recognizing the tell-tale signs of a scam

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Being scammed can be a real worry for any consumer, since being a victim of a scam can put anyone into a financial hole that is challenging to climb out of. But anyone can avoid being scammed by understanding the different ways that scammers use to request payment for products and services.

Knowing that scammers ask for fraudulent payments through bank and wire transfers, payment apps, or credit, gift and debit cards can put a would-be victim one step ahead of a scammer.

Unfortunately, too many consumers have fallen victim to fraudulent payment requests. The FTC reported that it received about 1.1 million reports of fraud totaling nearly $4.4 billion between January and June of this year. During this time, there were reportedly $901 million lost via bank transfer or payment; $164 million lost via wire transfer, $123 million via credit cards, $109 million via gift cards, $106 million via debit cards and $102 million via payment apps.

These statistics were shared this fall during a media briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, which brought attention to how certain payment methods can indicate a potential scam. The briefing featured two speakers from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Lois Greisman and Sophia Siddiqui.

Greisman, who is the associate director of the FTC’s Marketing Practices Division, pointed out that social media is the primary method of contact for scammers, while phone calls are the next biggest form.

 “Scammers like certain types of payment,” Greisman said, “because they can take the money easily and run … and leave very little trail. And for the consumer, it’s possible but virtually impossible to get their money back.”

In regard to bank transfer scams, Greisman recalled once being told that her grandson was in a car accident in Canada and in need of immediate surgery, but the only way he could receive surgery was if she asked her bank to send $7,895 to an account in Canada.

For gift cards, there are imposter scams, along with those in the category of prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. There are investment-related scams for cryptocurrency, and business opportunity scams for payment apps. Greisman urged people with credit cards to use them for online purchases; credit cards have the best protections under federal law, while that is not the case for other payment types. She added the government will not ask someone to pay with a gift card, and will never ask to pay by wire transfer.

“These are red flags,” Greisman said, in reference to scams within different types of payment. “They don’t get much brighter.”

Siddiqui, an attorney, who also works for the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that no one who is legitimate will demand payment via a gift card, cryptocurrency or wire transfer. Regarding gift cards, she said that they are for gifts and not payments.

“If you realize that you paid a scammer with a gift card,” Siddiqui said, “immediately contact the company that issued the gift cards.” She also advised that people hold on to the receipt, along with the gift card in question.

Cryptocurrency has been a rising trend in recent years, and scammers can find their way online into groups and other circles that engage in cryptocurrency talk. Siddiqui said these scammers will aim to gain trust and offer investment “help.” If someone unknowingly pays whatever amount in cryptocurrency to a scammer, and the scammer never contacts that person again after taking the money, it is very unlikely that the victim will get their money back.

Siddiqui stated that “crypto isn’t regulated like credit cards. … Credit cards offer a lot of protections, but crypto does not.”

For payment apps like Venmo and PayPal, it’s important to know who one is sending money to, since it is difficult to recover money that is sent through them. Siddiqui also urged that one never wire money to someone they have not met before to reduce the risk of being scammed.

If someone paid a scammer with a credit or debit card, they should contact their company and ask for the fraudulent charge on their account to be reversed. The request for any fraudulent charges to be removed can also be made for bank account or wire transfers to scammers. One should also avoid sharing social security numbers with suspicious people.

One idea  Greisman shared especially stands out: “Never underestimate how good, persuasive, (and) scary a scammer can be.”

To report any scams or cases of fraud, go to


Jamauri Bowles is an East Palo Alto Today writer/contributor.

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