Am I Being Scammed Right Now? A Checklist To Keep You Safe

It can be difficult to know whether or not you're being scammed—if you're ever in doubt, use this checklist to help you figure out what to do.


Bridget Clerkin
Updated 7 September 2021
Am I Being Scammed Right Now? A Checklist To Keep You Safe
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United States Scam & Fraud Statistics 2020


$3.3 billion total fraud losses
4.7 million fraud reports

1.4 million reports of identity theft

Source: 2019-20 Consumer Sentinel Report

Sections on this page
  1. Is This a Phishing Scam? (Checklist)
  2. Am I Being Scammed While Shopping Online? (Checklist)
  3. Is This a Rental Scam? (Checklist)
  4. Is This a Dating/Romance Scam? (Checklist)
  5. Other Ways to Watch for Scams
  6. What to Do After Completing the Checklist
  7. Different Types of Scams

One of the most challenging things about scams is figuring out whether or not you’re getting scammed. (After all, the gambits only work if someone is getting fooled.)

And while scammers tend to be clever enough to change their schemes when needed, they almost always send up a few red flags that may be able to help you figure out whether you’re being scammed.

Is This a Phishing Scam? (Checklist)

Phishing scams involve asking you for personal details that a scammer may use later to steal your money or even your identity.

If two or more of the following questions point to a scam, do not provide any information or click on any links.

Question Yes No
Does the email address match the company's domain?

 It's most likely legit.

 It's likely a scam.
Do the links go to a legitimate domain? (Hover over the link in the email to see where it's taking you.)

 It's most likely legit.

 It could be a scam.*
Is the email free from spelling and grammatical errors?

 A good sign—likely legit.

 It could be a scam.
Do the logos, fonts, and color schemes match the company's look and feel?

 A good sign, but it could still be a scam.

 It's likely a scam.
Are you being asked for personal information, such as your Social Security number (SSN), PIN codes, or bank account information?

 Almost guaranteed this is a scam.**

 Most likely not a scam.

* Companies may link you to third-party sites for things like surveys. 
** Never give out your personal information via email, text, or unsolicited phone call.

Am I Being Scammed While Shopping Online? (Checklist)

If you answer yes to two or more of the following questions, there’s a strong possibility this is a scam.

Question Yes No
Is the spelling or grammar poor?

 It might be a scam.

 It could be legit.
Are you being asked for payment via unusual forms? (E.g., gift cards, Western Union, MoneyGram, cashier's checks, money orders.)

 High possibility of a scam.

 It could be legit.
Is there a lack of details or vague details at best?

 It could be a scam.

 It might be legit.
Are there only generic stock photos used?

 It could be a scam. Ask for more photos.

 It might be legit.
Is the same ad posted in several cities/areas?

 Very likely a scam.

 Most likely legit.
Do they mention a Craigslist guarantee or something similar?

 Most likely a scam. (There's no such thing.)

 It could still be a scam.
Do they offer a "pick up agent" or third party to pick up your item for sale?

 Very likely a scam.

 It could still be a scam.

Is This a Rental Scam? (Checklist)

Dealing with a shady real estate deal and wondering whether it’s legit?

If your answers to these questions point to a scam, you should cease contact with the landlord/advertiser and look for another property.

Question Yes No
Are you able to view the property (including the inside) in person?

 Most likely legit.

 It's likely a scam.
Is the landlord out of town or not local to you?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Is the landlord putting a lot of pressure on you to close a deal?

 It could be a scam (or just aggressive business tactics).

 A good sign.
Does the ad/poster have a particularly heavy "sob story"?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Is the landlord or advertiser hard to contact?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign. 
Does the landlord/advertiser avoid answering your questions or offering sufficient details?

 Most likely a scam.

 A good sign. 
Are there vague details about the property itself, including the lack of an address or real photos?

 Very likely a scam.

 A good sign.
Is there a lack of traditional "screening" processes, such as credit checks or rental applications?

 It could be a scam (or just an inexperienced landlord).

 A good sign.
Are you being pushed to pay a deposit before even seeing the property?

 Most likely a scam.

 Most likely legit

Is This a Dating/Romance Scam? (Checklist)

Romance scams can be some of the hardest types of scams to suss out. If your answers to the following questions point to a scam, you should cease contact with the person immediately.

Question Yes No
Are their profile photos all very different?

 A good sign.

 It could be a scam.
Is there only one photo on their profile?

 It could be a scam.

 Multiple photos are a good sign.
Do their photos look like stock photos or modeling shots only?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Does the profile have a lot of information about the person's interests, personality, etc.?

 A good sign.

 It could be a scam.
Did your conversation with the person get very suggestive or emotional very quickly?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Did the conversation involve strange or unconnected answers to your questions?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Did the person send you a link to a random/unknown site?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Did the person ask for nude or illicit photos early on?

 It could be a scam.

 A good sign.
Did the person ask for money or sensitive information?

 Likely a scam.

 A good sign.
Have you met in person?

 A good sign.

 It could be a scam.
Does the person refuse to meet you in person for any reason?

 Likely a scam.

 A good sign.

Other Ways to Watch for Scams

If you’re still unsure whether you’re being scammed, take a moment to think.

The general scripts are crafted in specific ways to force an immediate and emotional reaction. They’re intentionally designed to make you do something you wouldn’t normally do, like part ways with a lot of money.

But to pull that off, most scams will have several tell-tale signatures. Along with the above red flags, these may help you figure out whether you’re being scammed.

They Contacted You

Nobody exactly sits around waiting to get scammed, so for scammers to make their money, they must proactively go after people.

Nearly every type of scam will begin with a scammer contacting you—whether it’s via email, text, over the phone, a private message on social media, through the traditional mail, or even in-person. The scam can’t start in earnest until they have you in their pocket, and scammers will go to great lengths to get you there.

The exceptions to this rule are real estate and online commerce scams, where the trick works better when scammers post a too-good-to-be-true listing online and wait for people to bite.

Money for Free

Speaking of too good to be true, big promises of big payoffs for practically nothing are another common theme in many scams that get people to participate.

It’s not always—though very often—money used as bait. Sometimes it could be a rental property or popular item for sale that seems like a great deal. Just remember: If it looks like an incredible offer, it most likely is.

Urgency

A sense of urgency is another common thread in many scams with a particular purpose.

Telling you that you need to act fast is a great way to make you act without thinking. And this gives the scammers a considerable advantage: The less you think about why something’s happening, the less likely you’ll be to realize what’s going on.

Urgency in a scam can manifest as everything from a pushy seller telling you that a deal won’t last to a more threatening authority warning you of a scary scenario that could happen if you don’t give them money.

Upfront Payments

Many scams mix and match elements to get maximum results, and many of them employ upfront payments or "advance fees" to seal the deal.

This usually comes after a too-good-to-be-true item is put on offer, like a prize, big sum of money, or debt relief. But you’ll have to pay before receiving these payments, whether to settle “taxes” or “fees” or for some other reason. These are, of course, all excuses for a scammer to take your money and run.

Strange Forms of Payment

Besides paying someone before you can get paid, scammers are also known to ask for those payments in many strange forms. This can help them manipulate systems, hide from consequences, and even confuse the paying party to their advantage.

Particular payment methods to look out for include wire payments, MoneyGrams, cashier’s checks, and paying via gift cards.

What to Do After Completing the Checklist

Hopefully, this checklist has helped give you a little clarification on your situation. But what to do now?

If You Don’t Think It’s a Scam

If you don’t think you’ve been scammed, but still want more clarification, it might be helpful in certain situations to ask for more information.

When it comes to online commerce or real estate scams, some good places to start include asking about:

  • Detailed questions about a product.
  • Proof of a receipt or an item’s serial number (then check the serial number on the company’s official website).
  • More (or any) photos.
  • A safe place to meet the person.

If you received a suspicious message from a company about your account, you can:

  • Check the app or website’s guidelines, to see if they outline specific ways they will or will not contact you.
  • Contact the company’s customer support service.
  • Report the incident through the company’s system.

If You Do Think It’s a Scam

Scams can cause a lot of harm, and the longer they go unaddressed, the more damage they can do.

If you’ve read over this list and think that you’ve been scammed, there are some options you can—and should—pursue.

If you’ve been scammed on a particular app or website, you should immediately:

  • Contact the company through its customer support page.
  • Block or flag the scammer through the website or app.

If you gave away anything other than money—especially personal or financial information—you should immediately:

You may also want to step up your account security in the future. Many apps allow users to add specific security features, including:

  • Requiring PIN codes for transactions.
  • Requiring fingerprints to complete transactions.
  • Initiating two-factor authentication.
  • Setting up email or text notifications for account activity or suspicious account activity.

Depending on the type and severity of the scam, you may even consider contacting your local authorities.

Remember: When it comes to avoiding scams, the best offense really is a good defense.

Different Types of Scams

Times change, and, unfortunately, many scams change with them, as the plots must adapt in order to keep drawing people in.

Still, while the details may be tweaked, many scams follow a general formula, working to lure you in or get something out of you in similar ways.

These are some of the most common scams and the general scripts they tend to follow.

Cashier’s Check Scams

A form of payment scam, these plots often appear on online marketplaces like eBay or Craigslist.

Posing as an interested buyer, a scammer will offer to pay with a cashier’s check. In return, they’ll ask for the item, or, in some cases, to be wired money. (Some forms of this scam involve a scammer “accidentally” sending you a check for the wrong amount than asking for the difference.)

In any case, the cashier’s check will be no good, but it will take several days for your bank to inform you of this.

Debt Collection/Debt Settlement Scams

Debt collection scams can take place online, on the phone, via text, or through the regular mail. Their common thread involves someone asking you to pay off a debt.

You’ll likely receive a vague reference to a case number and quite often receive a vague threat of what could happen should you not pay up.

The related debt settlement scams follow a similar script, but involve someone offering to renegotiate, refinance, or settle a previous debt. Rather than money, these people often ask instead for personal details like your bank account number.

Imposter Scams

One of the oldest tricks in the book, this type of scam involves a scammer posing as a person you may otherwise trust—such as a police officer, government employee, utility worker, or even charity worker—and asking you for money or potentially useful personal details.

Online Shopping Scams

Online commerce scammers use the anonymity of the Internet to their great advantage.

They’ll lurk on popular online marketplace sites, like Craigslist, eBay, or Facebook Marketplace, and pretend to be an interested buyer. Once you ship the item, they may try to get out of paying for it in any number of ways, including:

  • Sending you a fake invoice
  • Paying with a fraudulent cashier’s check
  • Making false claims about the condition of the item

Alternatively, online commerce scammers can pose as sellers. They can scam you this way by asking for strange forms of payment, such as gift cards or MoneyGrams, or make up any number of reasons why they got your money but you never got their item.

Prize Giveaway Scams

Who hasn’t wanted to win a fabulous prize? This scam works so well because the answer to that question is: No one. But sadly, in these scenarios, the prize isn’t real, and you’ll be asked to pay taxes or some other sort of fee before you can get it. Of course, these payments go straight to the scammer.

If you are approached about winning sweepstakes, it’s important to remember whether you even signed up for it.

Rental/Real Estate Scams

Akin to the online commerce scam is the rental/real estate scam.

Again, this broad umbrella could include many different types of schemes. But, typically, the scam will involve a property listing that looks too good to be true and a landlord that is conveniently out of town and can’t meet you personally or give you a tour.

Most of these scams aim to steal a security deposit and as much pre-paid rent as possible out of you before you realize that the property isn’t real or was never on the market, to begin with.

Romance Scams

One of the saddest types of scams out there, these schemes typically take place on dating apps or websites. Scammers will target people looking for love and lure them in, saying or doing whatever it takes to make you believe their feelings are real. Then, once you trust them enough, they’ll start asking for money or more.

Tech Support Scams

Tech support scams combine the confusing nature of many online platforms and the tendency of people to trust IT techs.

They can come in the form of an email or text, but they’ll typically tell you that something’s wrong with your account. You’ll also receive a link to click on in order to “verify” your identity or some similar concept. But these links can either download malware on your device or lead you to websites designed to steal your personal information.

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