Smart About Money: Red Flags of a Scam


Sometimes it seems as if there are people in the world who actually have nothing to do all day and all night but think up scams to steal money from complete strangers.

Besides being international criminals, these scammers are heartless in the way they target people with highly emotional appeals, which run the gamut from love of family to the dream of winning a life-changing fortune.

And in case you think a scammer could never “get” you, the reality is that there is some situation that has the potential to get almost anyone. What can you do to protect yourself, a family member or a friend?

While there are many common threads, scams come in every variety and permutation. But there are two red flags present in almost every scam.

If you simply decide in advance how you will act if you are confronted with either or both of these red flags, you may save yourself from ever becoming a victim.

The first red flag of a scam? Whatever the situation is, it’s unexpected.

An unexpected phone call about a family member in danger. An unexpected email about a large lottery win — especially for a lottery you’re pretty sure you never entered. An unexpected offer to make some easy money cashing a check for a stranger. An unexpected business opportunity. Unexpected is the key word.

Anything involving unexpected heightened emotions — especially with a complete stranger in the mix in any way — should be immediately suspect. And chances are very, very good that a call from someone claiming to be a family member in trouble is probably from a scammer, especially if your caller ID shows a phone number you don’t recognize.

The second red flag of a scam? You are told to keep something secret.

A local woman recently wrote a letter to this paper about her experience with a scammer. The caller claimed to be her grandson. He said he had been in a car accident in another country and needed money to pay the hospital. And here it comes: He told her not to call “his mother” because the news would “upset her.”

Luckily, this woman’s friend and a local Rite Aid employee convinced her to break that promise and call her daughter. She learned that her real grandson was safe and sound at work right in town. Keeping a cool head and being willing to take objective advice kept a thief from getting $2,800 of her savings.

If anyone, anytime, anywhere tries to get you to wire money quickly — without thinking and in secret — or if you feel threatened in any way, take a breath, take five minutes. Then call the local police fraud team. Or call the branch manager of your bank. Or both. If a scammer is trying to take advantage of you, the police and your bank will be delighted to help keep you from becoming a victim. Give them the chance!

Nick Maffeo is the senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer at the Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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avatar Posted by on Aug 15 2013. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion, Smart About Money. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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