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There is a scam for everyone – if you haven’t been a victim yet, it doesn’t mean you won’t be. Scammers are becoming more professional and more sophisticated. They are shape shifters, making real-time adjustments to their tactics and constantly coming up with new variations of scams. It’s up to us to learn about scams and protect ourselves.

When it comes to scams, prevention is the best medicine. Prevention of scams is important because it is often the case that once your money is lost to scammers, you can’t get it back. Given the proliferation of different types of scams and the fact that scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to scam us, it’s not possible for anyone to know about all types of scams. Because of this, it’s important that we learn to generalize so we can spot new and unfamiliar scams that come at us.

Many scams share a set of common characteristics. If you learn these characteristics of a scam, you can use this information to spot new scams. Learn the following telltale signs of scams.

Unsolicited contact – scammers almost always will contact you first, though there may be exceptions to this. If the contact is initiated by someone else, be wary when dealing with this person and don’t be afraid to say no.

Emotionally charged situation – scammers use strategically placed stories to induce an emotional response in their targets. Examples include a scammer telling you that you are in trouble with the government, you owe money, there’s an emergency with your family, or you’ve won a lottery. Once your emotions have kicked in to high gear, especially fear or excitement, it becomes harder to make rational decisions and differentiate between scam and reality. This makes us more likely to fall for the scam.

High pressure tactics and threats – scammers apply high pressure tactics and threats because humans process information and choices differently when we are under pressure. Scammers know this about human psychology, and use this to trick us. Pressure tactics may include a scammer offering the opportunity to gain something, prevent yourself from losing something, or help someone else. Scammers couple this pressure with the demand that you act immediately, and if you don’t, you will miss an opportunity or something bad will happen. The scammers may make threats, such as a threat that you will be sued or go to jail if you do not pay.

The person requests or demands money – scammers typically demand payment in a specific way, usually through payment methods that are harder to trace. These include payment by bank or wire transfer, gift card, using cryptocurrency, or even by cash. All these methods of payment put you at risk of never seeing your money again.

Resistance to verification or letting you off the phone – if you ask for verification of what the scammer is saying or imply that you are going to try to obtain verification, the scammer will argue, ridicule you, or try to threaten or intimidate you to overwhelm your resistance. Scammers may try to keep you on the phone. The scammer may even try to keep you on the phone while you go out to make the payment to the scammer.

If you aren’t sure if something is a scam or have questions about where to report scams, call Contra Costa Senior Legal Services for assistance at (925) 609-7900.