How to Spot a Scam and Not Be a Victim

Don’t be a target – be informed! 

Scammers use the telephone, email, text messages and old-fashioned letters to manipulate victims to part with their money in an endless parade of schemes. Recognize the common RED FLAGS of many scams:

1) An unexpected call from someone claiming to be a government official

Government agencies do not make surprise phone calls. Just HANG UP. If they call back – hang up again. Don’t believe the number on your caller ID is for real. Independently verify the identity of any “official” calling you on the phone.  

2) Someone is asking you to pay fines or fees, or send money using a money order or prepaid gift card

Legitimate organizations will never ask you to pay anything with a gift card or money order. No government agency will ever ask you to pay a fee or fine with a prepaid credit or gift card.

3) A surprise phone call from a grandchild who has been jailed, hospitalized or kidnapped:

You will hear from a person that may sound like your grandchild – it isn’t. Hang up. Call your grandchild or family member yourself to see if they are okay.   

4) You have won a prize, a fortune, or find yourself in a deal that is too good to be true

If something seems too good to be true, it’s usually a scam. Call a friend, relative or law enforcement to discuss your good fortune before doing anything.  

5) A sudden, threatening situation, scaring you into sending large sums of money quickly to keep you or a loved one from being harmed”

Many scammers will use threats of violence to get you to send money. Victims are told not to call police or tell anyone about the situation. If you receive a phone call with any kind of threat, call the police immediately.

6) A new romantic relationship started on an internet dating service

Older adults visiting internet dating sites are especially vulnerable to scammers. Warning signs of a signal romance scams include:

• a desire to communicate through text messaging

• efforts to quickly establish trust

• your new romantic partner suddenly needs to travel far away

• a series of odd accidents, arrests, business troubles, all requiring you to lend or send your money by wire transfer

MORE MONEY IS LOST IN ROMANCE SCAMS THAN ANY OTHER TYPE OF FRAUD. If you suspect you may be involved in a romance scam, talk it over with a friend or family member. 

Be Scam Aware

Follow these simple rules:

1. Never give any personal information, bank account information or government pension information over the phone or internet unless you initiated the contact and/or you are sure the website is secure.  

2. Be careful what you download. Don’t consent to prompts. Check your security settings, use anti-spyware and install a firewall.

3. Prizes/sweepstakes/lotteries don’t require taxes or fees upfront. Do not purchase items to win, or pay money to win money. Any enclosed cheque with an offer is most likely fake.

4. Never send money through Western Union, MoneyGram, cash or a prepaid card without confirming with whom you are speaking. Never send money using a prepaid credit card or gift card.

5. Don’t allow strangers into your home who are offering reduced fees for utilities, security systems or home repairs, and don’t show them your bills (that’s how they get your personal information).

6. Give to charities known to you, and keep your donations local. Don’t be bullied into making quick decisions. Call the charity to ask how much of your money will go to recipients or visit

7. Avoid making emotional buying or investment decisions. Resist immediate decisions, and don’t be bullied. When in doubt – HANG UP.

8. Never order medical supplies through the mail, automated calls or over the internet. Speak with your doctor.

9. Report scams to the RCMP at 1-888-495-8501, or call your local law enforcement agency.

By Dave Long, a scam prevention outreach worker at Lifespan, a nonprofit organization that provides provides information, guidance and services for older adults and caregivers ( He retired from US Customs and Border Protection in 2018, where he served in public affairs. Dave and his wife Pat live in Fairport, NY, and are frequent visitors to NL.

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