Scams, Ripoffs, and Frauds to Avoid

Every year, new scams and rip-offs will be born, and some older scams will take on different forms, ripping people off of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Smart people, good people, some who may be your family and friends, will fall victim to these scams, rip-offs, and frauds.

When you’re ripped off, you’re embarrassed. You can appear to be a fool. Most victims don’t tell other people. Would you? Probably not.

The bad guys never sleep. They work 24 X 7 X 365 (366 on leap year) continuously inventing new ways to separate you from your hard-earned money. Fraudsters and con artists come at you using email, phone calls, and sometimes showing up on your doorstep, hoping to trick you out of your money.

Be aware of these common scams so that you can avoid them.

IRS Threats

When the real IRS makes threats, it will be in an IRS auditor’s office or a courtroom.


How this scam works: Scammers make unsolicited calls claiming to be IRS officials. They demand that the victim pays a bogus tax bill. They con the victim into sending cash, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully a victim into paying.

The truth: The IRS will never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment
  • Call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
  • Require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.

Besides IRS threats, the IRS provides information on other tax scams and consumer alerts.

Don’t get me wrong. If you legally OWE the IRS back taxes, they want their money! Just don’t fall victim to an IRS tax scam.

iTunes Payoff

Wire transfers and prepaid cash cards no longer work as well for scammers. Consumers are wiser, recognizing these payment methods usually signal a scam. Many scammers are turning to iTunes gift cards to steal your money.

How this scam works: Scammers make calls asking people to make payments over the phone for things such as taxes, hospital bills, utility bills, and debt collection. During the calls, scammers instill panic and fear in their victims.

Victims are instructed to make a payment by purchasing iTunes Gift Cards from the nearest retailer. Retailers include convenience stores, electronics retailers, grocery stores, and many other retail locations. Once the gift cards are purchased, the victim is asked to pay by sharing the 16-digit code on the back of the card with the caller over the phone.

The truth: iTunes Gift Cards can be used ONLY to purchase goods and services from the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, or for an Apple Music membership. If you’re asked to use the cards to pay any bills or debts, you are most likely the target of a scam. Immediately report the situation to your local police department as well as the FTC.

Apple Support provides tips for avoiding iTunes Gift Card Scams.

Fake FTC Investigations

This scam is like a cockroach. It never dies. It keeps hanging around because people fall for it.

How this scam works: In this scam, the swindler pretends to be from the FTC and emails people, telling them they’re under investigation and to click on a link for more information.

The truth: The emails may be phishing scams designed to collect personal information, including your email and IP addresses — information that could be used to commit identity theft. Or, the links can be used to install malware on your computer, which can make your device crash, or let the scammer:

  • monitor and control your online activity
  • steal your personal information
  • send spam
  • commit fraud

The federal government doesn’t tell people they are under investigation by email. If you get one of these emails, STOP. Don’t click the link.

Learn how to spot an impostor scam. Check out the FTC’s impostor Scam page.

Work from Home Rip-offs

Millions of Americans are stuck in part-time jobs they wish were full-time. No wonder so many people are interested in work-at-home jobs to increase their incomes. There are over 50 work-at-home scams for every one legitimate opportunity.

How these scams work: Like most good scams, there’s a grain of truth in the offers. However, you can make money working from home. It’s just very, very hard, and not very profitable unless you’re a scam contributor. It’s possible, and that’s why these scams are so persuasive.

Work-from-home scams can require initial investments from say $50-$60, up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The real con comes after you’ve made the initial purchase. The scammers call to try to upsell you with expensive and worthless coaching and training programs. People have lost thousands of dollars in these schemes.

Note, these work-from-home propositions aren’t always fake. People do make real money working with these kinds of companies. They just aren’t what they seem, and you don’t want to be a sucker. In the end, most of these sites only offer to help you make money the old-fashioned way, by turning your friends into customers and even bigger suckers.

The truth: Many “real” work at home jobs are low pay, very hard work, and nothing you would want to do long-term.

How do you spot a work-from-home rip-off?

  • Anytime you have to pay money before you make money, you aren’t applying for a real job
  • If “work from home” appears in the title of the ad, it’s probably the bait
  • Claims that no experience or a resume is required
  • Ads that provide no job description at all
  • Other obvious tips: chances to earn expensive cruises, new cars, and vacation homes

The FTC’s Consumer Information – Working from Home site describes all kinds of home-based businesses.

On the legit side of earning extra cash, here is a great article showing you 50 Legitimate Ways to Make Money from Home.

Scare tactics

Fear. It briefly shuts down your brain’s logic centers and makes you more likely to react impulsively. When we’re afraid, we don’t think straight, and we can make bad decisions. In the past, scammers would gain your trust to do their work. They’d smile, act friendly, and show concern. They’d even try to charm you with kind words to get you to open your heart and your wallet.

You may come across frightening but fake threats of arrest, lawsuits, and financial disaster for supposedly missing jury duty or not paying a bill. Rip-off artists have found that fear and intimidation are often more profitable, especially with people over 50.

How these scams work: You’re threatened with violence, a lawsuit or arrest over supposed missed loan payments. You’re told to pay to avoid a bogus court summons. Or, you’re told a virus will ruin your computer unless you pay. Sometimes the bad guys come right to your door.

In one scare tactic variation, Cold Threat: Shutoff Shakedown, be prepared for bogus threats that your utility service is about to be shut off because of unpaid bills. Scammers use special software to falsely display the name and phone number of your utility company on your caller ID.

The scammers may threaten to send someone to your home to collect overdue funds, and then an angry accomplice might arrive for the shakedown. Don’t open the door.

The truth: Most utilities will mail at least one, probably several, past-due notifications before throwing the switch. Utility companies don’t send thugs to collect.

What Can You Do to Avoid Becoming a Victim?

  • Don’t trust unsolicited email
  • Treat email attachments with caution
  • Don’t click links in email messages
  • Install antivirus software and keep it up to date
  • Install a personal firewall and keep it up to date

Here are more email scams and ways to avoid them.

You’ve probably already been confronted in the past with several email scams and rip-offs. Hopefully, you were able to deflect, block, and stomp them into the ground.

DON’T OVERESTIMATE YOUR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE A SCAM OR A RIP-OFF. There’s a reason they call them “con artists.” They’re good at what they do!

EVERYONE is eligible to be a victim of a scam or rip-off. Be aware. Be informed. Learn about different scams, rip-offs, and frauds, and talk about them with your family to protect yourselves.

Keep your guard up. Before sending or giving out any money or personal information, verify where this is going. Know who you’re dealing with.

If you’re a parent or grandparent, talk about these things with your kids. If you have aging parents or grandparents – make sure you’re looking out for them.

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