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How to Identify Scams and Prevent Them

When we think of people falling for scams, you might believe it only happens to the older generations. This couldn't be further from the truth—people of all ages get scammed all the time, and younger people actually report falling for scams more than older people. What's clear is that no matter your age, learning about scams is important for everyone.

If you or someone else has ever fallen for scam, remember that you are not alone. Part of what makes scammers so good at what they do is their ability to fluster and confuse you. After they upset you, it's much easier to trick you into doing what they want when you normally would never fall for it. In these situations, take a deep breath and remember these common signs of a scam!

Concerned woman looking at a smartphone sitting on a couch.

How to Spot a Scam—7 Signs

  1. They want you to act NOW
    If you had time to think, you'd see through their lies quickly. Their solution is that you need to get going! No matter what they say, there is always time to think things through. If you're on the phone hang up immediately and do your research. If they say they're calling from your bank for example, go to your bank's website to get their phone number and call them to verify what you've been told. Whatever they say is happening, always verify details using contact information you know is legitimate, and never use contact information any potential scammer is trying to give you.
  2. The sender's email address looks wrong
    Scammers get more and more creative all the time! Always look at the email address if something (anything) seems off to you. For example, ABC Bank's legitimate email address might be, but when you look at the email address it actually says or This is a common tactic, but if you take a close look, you'll see the whole thing is a fake.
  3. They're asking for private financial information or codes
    Your bank will never call you to ask for any username, password, or any kind of code or passcode. In fact, unless you apply for a loan, they will never call you to ask for anything. Sometimes things do come up with your account, but you will always have at least a day to visit your local branch in person or call them at the phone number listed on their site to find out more. They will understand and appreciate your precaution, so don't worry about seeming rude. If they are upset that you want to visit a branch or call them back at their listed phone number, that's a huge red flag!
  4. You are not expecting anyone to reach out to you
    Have you ever won a contest you don't remember entering? Or, is there suddenly a huge problem you had no idea existed? Chances are the people contacting you are trying to scam you. Emergencies do happen, but in general, you should at least have enough time to use contact information you know is legitimate (again, get that from the website directly, never anything a potential scammer tries to give you) and verify what's happening.
  5. Their instructions to pay them seem…weird
    Unlike your niece or nephew, the IRS does not want gift cards and they certainly don't need a same day wire. Asking for payment via cryptocurrency is also a sign of a scam.
  6. They want you to send them money back because they "overpaid"
    This is probably the biggest indicator of a scam. If you ever receive payment for anything, whether it's for a job, buying supplies for a brand new job you've been offered, or something else, and they “accidentally” overpaid on the check, this is your sign it's a scam. If you do deposit this check, let's say it's $3,000 and the scammer wants you to send them back $800, your bank may make all of it available in your account, but that doesn't mean the check is legit. It takes time for the bank the check is drawn on to come back and say that the check is fraudulent. By then you've already sent the scammer $800, and now your bank took the money back out of your account because the check was bad. Now, your account is $800 less in addition to whatever you may have spent before the check was returned.
  7. It seems too good to be true
    You know the old saying…if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. They might say you've won the lottery or sweepstakes but have to pay a fee to get your winnings. An especially crushing scam are the job offer ones—you believe you've finally gotten a dream offer, but the "recruiter" is only pretending to work for the company.
    Remember, you should never pay to get a prize or have to give our financial or personal information. We might sound like a broken record, but there will always be time to verify information and call the company directly to make sure it's true or confirm your suspicions.

Stop and talk to someone you trust

Whether it's a friend, family member, or someone else, it's important to talk with someone. Since they are not directly involved, they will be able to listen to what was said or sent to you and look at the whole situation to help you figure out if this is legitimate or a scam. WaFd Bank also offers a scam checker through our partnership with Banzai to help you determine if it's a scam if you can't get ahold of someone immediately. We recommend going through the questions before a scam is happening so you're more prepared to spot when (not if) you're presented with one.

When you do spot a scam, report it

This way, police and other government agencies have a much better chance of catching the scammers and preventing them from taking advantage of others who could lose money to these scams. You can file a report to the Federal Trade Commission at

To keep up to date on recent scams, you can also sign up for consumer alerts from the FTC directly to help protect yourself and those you know.

What to do if you were scammed

First, don't feel too bad about what happened and move forward knowing you've learned a thing or two! Next, file a report with the FTC to help stop them from scamming others. Last but certainly not least, time for some damage control. The FTC can help you with their What to Do If You Were Scammed page that lists next steps (and legitimate contact information!) so you can move forward and protect yourself from losing anything else.

How to Avoid Scams Before They Happen

Part of what makes scammers so good at what they do is their ability to fluster and confuse you, tricking you into doing what they want. According to the FTC, thousands of people fall for a scam of one kind of another every single day.

  1. Block unwanted calls, texts, and emails
    Don't give any of your information out when you get a request you aren't expecting
  2. Set up an email address specifically for important things
    Having two email inboxes can be a bit of a chore but can help you quickly see if any emails you get are scams. You'll only use this email address for things like bank accounts, investments, insurance, bills, you get the idea. Signing up for coupons is for your other email address! This way, you can help make sure your “important” email address is secure, and it's less likely that fraudsters will get ahold of it to send you bogus emails. While this isn't foolproof, it will make it easier for you to spot a scam since you can compare suspicious emails to ones that you know are legitimate.
  3. Use secure passwords
    We're sure this isn't the first time you've heard this one, but that's because it's an important piece to your security. Never use a password more than once, especially if it has any sensitive information like your debit or credit card number. Consider using a password manager instead, which is a secure way to keep all your passwords safe so you don't have to remember hundreds of unique login information. Not sure if the password you chose is secure? Find out with WaFd Bank's Password Strength Testing Tool. Anything you enter will not be stored anywhere—all testing on the tool is done on that page and no data is sent or saved from that tool.
  4. Stay vigilant
    If a website asks for your personal information or you want to buy something online, take a couple of minutes to verify that the site is legitimate. If you got there through search rather than typing the URL and going to the site directly, you might have accidentally clicked on a look-alike scam site. These can look almost identical to the real site, but with slight variations in spelling. Even if it has the right logo, double check the URL and make sure, since anyone can save a logo off of search engine sites.
  5. Keep operating systems and software up to date on all your devices
    It's tempting to delay updates for a more convenient time (we've been there too) but these updates often contain the latest security patches to increase your device's defenses. Because of this, devices that are running off of old or outdated versions are the target of many hacks, so it's imperative that you make the updates whenever they become available. You might also consider installing additional software that provides antivirus, firewall, and/or email filter services.

WaFd Bank is Here to Help

No question is too small, and we want to help you make the best financial decisions possible. Not only do we offer Free Checking* and have some great rates on savings accounts and CDs, but we also like to get to know you personally so we can offer the best assistance possible. To open an account or to ask us a question, give us a call at 800-324-9375 or visit your local branch today!

*$25 initial deposit to open, nonsufficient funds charge may apply.

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