How to identify a scam call before you're taken advantage of

Step away from your phone! If you don't know these new scams identified by the FCC, you could be a target.

At this point, everyone has probably received a scam call (or a thousand). And by now, you’re probably savvy about more than a few of them. For example, someone impersonates your credit card company or the IRS in order to get your personal information, or an automated voice tries to get you to say “yes” so that word can be used as a voice signature for fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, scammers are only getting trickier and casting wider nets with newer scams. That’s why the FCC recently created a “Scam Glossary” to alert people to the many scams out there—and explain how to avoid them. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

809 scam

If you receive a call from a number with an 809 area code, it might appear to be coming from the United States, but it’s not. Those calls are actually originating from another country—the Dominican Republic, to be exact. The caller will leave an urgent voicemail for you, and when you call back, he or she will try to keep you on the line for as long as possible in order to make you rack up large international charges. Another problematic three-digit area code is 232, which goes to Sierra Leone. The best move here is to simply not answer the phone when you’re getting a call from a strange number—and especially a strange area code. Your phone isn’t the only place that people will try to take advantage of you. Make sure you know these 10 common online scams—and how to avoid them.


13 Things That Seem Like Scams But Are Actually Great

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The yellow cleaning spray named "Awesome" from the dollar store evidently lives up to its name. The guy who recommended it said that it really should be priced higher and he's never used it without gloves.

The dollar store toilet bowl cleaner named The Works is so strong it can etch concrete.

The cellphone company is designed to save you a bunch of money on your plan if you switch away from a major carrier.

This guy loves it: I seriously only pay $45 a month for unlimited everything for my Google Nexus 4 and also get great service since I have a AT&T compatible SIM card with them. Basically my service runs off of AT&T towers just without me having to pay $100 a month. It is cheap, and in the long run saves you a lot of money.

These seem like a clever ploy by Big Detergent to force you to spend more on rebranded soap.

Well, as it turns out they actually really work out well. Almost everyone uses a little too much detergent in their wash, but these little pods actually do the trick.

When one guy's friend hit a deer and had to unload his totaled car, offered nearly six times as much for the Camry than local junkyards:

Submitted the request online, guy came out (to him) a day or two later with a truck, looked the car over to make sure everything checked out with the specs he submitted, handed him a check, and left with the car. Check cleared with no issues.

My guess is that they can give such a higher premium because they scrap the car and sell the parts online, so they'll have a much higher turnaround. Either that or it's some really eccentric millionaire finding new ways to pass the time.

I can personally confirm that Linux is awesome.

Here's why: "You mean I can get a fully-functional operating system for free, just download it off the website, and it's faster, more secure and easier than Windows? And it has thousands of free programs with it? And they're offering more and more games that often play better on Linux than Windows? Sure , whatever...."

But it's true!
It's a neoprene jacket you put on animals to reduce anxiety. It accomplishes this by gently squeezing them all over.

Got it for my frenchie who was going through anxiety after we moved, and it totally works on the short term and on the long term.

This pet comb really works: Furminator brush, a metal comb with tapered grooves that removes undercoat and reduces shedding. It's not a surprise it works, but how well it works. The ad photo with the husky surrounded by a giant pile of fur is exactly what happens.

Another endorsement: Bought a furminator yesterday and felt like a dumbass for spending $45 on a damn cat brush. Then I had a pile of fur twice the size of my cat.

Photo: sundaykofax, and _Tar0_,

Several people swear by this blender. The issue is that it's sold through infomercials which instantly sets off everyone's B.S. alarm.
You know those ads on television for sites offering free credit reports? Don't use those websites.
Congress made the credit report companies provide people with one free credit report per year, so they did that with, but then made several easily confusable clones that charged money.

Here's the explanation: is run by the U.S. government and is designed to comply with the law requiring credit bureaus to give you your reports for free every so often. and sites like it are businesses who charge you money for these same services (or require that you bundle pay services with the free service of getting your report) [...] they're preying on the people who were trying to get their free report and just went to the wrong web address.

It's 100% Congressionally-mandated legitimacy. Check it out:

We're talking about Mr. Clean Magic Eraser kind of products. It perfectly breaks down any kind of material from very fine cracks and textures.

People use these on white sneakers to wild success, and one Redditor cleaned a horrifying tub in a new apartment to the point it looked like new. One guy used a similar product, Barkeeper's Friend, to get a sharpie'd genital off of his fridge.

RainX is the stuff you spread apply to your windshield that repels rain, meaning that you don't actually have to use your windshield wipers.

Here's one Redditor's endorsement: First, it will last a lot longer than a few days if you follow the directions to a tee. If it's at all cool air temps when you apply it, turn on your defroster for a while to heat up the window. Helps a lot. When you get up to speeds that make the rain "skitter" off the windshield, stop using the wipers; this speed will vary depending on the angle of your window. [...]

Photo: Kjarrett,
Lastly, I've heard Aquapel makes Rain‑X appear as though a drunken monkey had smeared feces over your window in comparison. I can't personally speak to this, as I cannot afford Aquapel.  Sounds fun.

Sold by the late but legendary pitchman Billy Mays, the sodium percarbonate cleaning product is actually really, really good at cleaning anything.

Granted, you can get the same chemical off-brand at a pool supply store for a fifth of the price, but the stuff just annihilates stains.



Utility scam

This scam often targets native Spanish speakers and has scammers pose as utility-company employees calling to request immediate payment or they will shut off your service. The payment is most often requested through a prepaid card so the charge can’t be contested. If you receive this type of call, you should contact your utility company directly to discuss your account rather than making a payment with this person over the phone.

Auto-warranty scam

Most people don’t know quite when their car warranty or insurance is up, which is what makes this scam so universal. Here, the caller will impersonate your insurance company or pretend to be selling an auto-warranty service. But the problem is that in some cases, the scammer may have actually acquired information about your existing policy in order to make the request sound more credible. The goal of this scam is to get your credit card information. In general, it’s always a good idea to call warranty services and the like yourself rather than making purchases through an unsolicited phone call. In general, your car is a magnet for scammers. Be aware of these car-repair scams to watch out for.

Neighbor spoofing

If you receive a call from a number that looks almost identical to your own, then you’re likely being scammed. Neighbor spoofing is when someone calls from a number that has the same initial digits as your own, leading you to believe that it is someone local when it is, in fact, really a scammer. If you answer, they will try to get personal information or money from you.

Jury-duty scam

Is there a warrant out for your arrest because you missed jury duty? That’s what this scammer will claim, in addition to pretending to be a member of law enforcement. The script will go something like this: They’ll tell you that you’ve missed jury duty and are subject to a fine that you need to pay by wiring money or using a gift card. Rest assured, the real police will never ask you to pay a fine by using a gift card.


Smishing is short for “SMS phishing,” and for this one, you’ll be getting a text, not an actual phone call. In the text, the person will claim to be from your bank and provide a link for you to click on. When you do, the scammer will attempt to trick you out of money or personal information. Here are some more texts you should delete immediately.

Health-insurance scam

For these scams, you’ll get a robocall or one from an actual person claiming to work for a health-insurance company. They’ll say they can get you discounted insurance, which often involves a “medical discount card” that ends up not being accepted anywhere. While this scam happens quite a bit during open enrollment season, it can occur year-round. Most of these calls are illegal, and you can actually file a complaint with the FCC if you get them.


9 Hotel Scams and Annoying Fees to Watch Out for

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After you check in, the room phone rings, allegedly from the front desk. There's a problem with your credit card, the operator says, please give me the account numbers again. To pull it off, all a criminal has to do is trick their way through a hotel switchboard and catch a patron in the room. If you get a call like this, hang up, call the operator, and ask if there's a problem. That's a good habit at home, too. Hang up and call back. If there's really a problem, don't reveal your number over the phone. Just walk back to the front desk.

"You find a pizza delivery flyer slipped under your hotel door," the FTC says. "You call to order, and they take your credit card number over the phone. But the flyer is a fake, and a scammer now has your info." I've not seen widespread incidence of this. it would be pretty brazen for ID thieves to physically walk around hotel hallways, where cameras might be used to identify them. Still, the same principal applies. Use a smartphone to double-check the phone number you see on any flyer placed in your room before you order pizza.

The single easiest way for a hacker to hijack your computer is to set up a rogue hot spot and trick you into connecting to it. "Oh, free WiFi," you think. While that's a very real problem, it's also not terribly likely in a hotel room. After all, to be close enough to pull it off, the criminal's technology would in most cases have to be inside the hotel. That's a risky proposition. On the other hand, you might be visiting a lot of strange coffee shops on the road, where rogue Wi-Fi is a more likely possibility. It's always smart to double-check the safety of the networks you connect to, however. It might be wise to stick with your smartphone's connectivity, if that's possible.
The more expensive the hotel, the more likely you will be charged a hefty Wi-Fi fee of $10-$15 per day. The new trick I've seen lately is for hotels to offer "free" Wi-Fi in the lobby but charge for access in the room. Best way to avoid that fee? Before you leave, make sure you know how to use your smartphone for broadband access.
Hotels have a love-hate relationship with websites like Priceline (PCLN) or Expedia, which help them fill rooms,but systematically put downward price pressure on their inventory. Extra fees, added at check-in, are the hotels' way around this problem. Many folks pay online, only to find there's additional charges when they arrive at the hotel. Resort fees are often the biggest culprit. As the name suggests, this fee is most prevalent in restort-y places like Las Vegas. 

Hotels like charging to clean your room now, as if that's not included in the price. The worst part of the housekeeping fee: Often, housekeepers don't get any of the money.

More hotels are embracing travelers with pets, and they're charge $10 to $100 for allowing a pet in your room. If you use a site like Expedia to sort through pet-friendly hotels, make sure you manually check the fee. Not all pet-friendly hotels are created equal.

This one bugs me. Some hotels put a safe fee on your bill, even if you never use the safe. You can ask that it be removed. Same for the newspaper fee.

Finally, gone are the days when hotels could be canceled by 6 p.m. on the night of a reservation for a full refund. Cancellation policies are all over the map now and can even vary based on how the reservation was initially made. Never book a hotel without knowing what the cost of a breakup would be. Travel always involves adventure, which involves unpredictability, which means plans change. Make sure you plan for that.



Tech-support scam

Warning: Your computer has been infected with a virus! So goes these tech-support scams, which are some of the oldest in the book. After this lead-in, instead of removing the alleged virus, the person on the phone will walk you through a process that actually places a virus on your computer. Just how common is this scam? Microsoft has estimated that around 3.3 million people are scammed each year, leading to an annual cost of $1.5 billion and an average loss of more than $450 per individual.

Recovery scam

This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’ve already fallen victim to a scam, don’t believe it when someone calls and attempts to help you recover money from that scam. In a recovery scam, someone calls a person who has already been scammed and offers to help—but that help actually involves scamming that same person again. Don’t miss these 10 ways to protect yourself online so you never fall victim to scams.

Back-to-school scam

Like all scams, this one targets people who are vulnerable—in this case, current or recent graduates. Here are some common variations on the theme: Someone calls a recent grad and offers a scholarship that doesn’t exist, or says they’ll help to find a roommate or a non-existent house rental. The goal of the scam is to acquire personal information, sometimes financial information, that is then used by the scammer.

FBI arrest/deportation scam

A helpful note: If the FBI is planning to arrest you, they’re not going to call you first. But it can still be jarring to get an official-sounding call from someone claiming to be from this government office. In this scam, the caller will say he’s from the FBI and has a warrant for your arrest, or from Immigration and plans to deport you. The caller will ask for you to make a payment in order to rescind the warrant.

Google-listing scam

In this type of scam, a caller will claim that he can either add or remove your business on Google for a fee. The callers are not affiliated with Google, have no power to do what they claim, and are simply collecting payment for a service that they will not do. According to Google, while you might get a call from an operator for the purposes of development, customer service, or support, the caller “will never ask you for payment information over the phone or guarantee you favorable placement in [their] products.” These phone scams might be hot and new right now, but beware of these more “classic” phone call scams that can steal your money, too.


Beware These Consumer Scams

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Last year, identity theft accounted for one-fifth of all complaints to the Consumer Sentinel Network, making it the most common consumer fraud in America. According to the FBI, identity thieves use consumers' personal data -- birth date, Social Security number, name, bank account information, etc. -- to conduct other illegal activities, such as credit card or mortgage fraud. Learn more here. 

Telemarketing fraud encompasses a range of scams designed to convince you to part with your money. An unknown caller tells you you've won a prize, or a vacation, or the lottery, or that there's a check for you that must be delivered by courier. Bottom line: Don't give money to anyone unless you can confirm their identity. And if the idea of winning a contest you didn't enter sounds strange or a little crazy -- that's because it is. Learn more here. 

In the wake of the real estate market's collapse, scammers are posing as lawyers offering distressed homeowners "assistance" with getting a loan modification in exchange for a fee. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law advises struggling homeowners to steer clear of costly lawyers and instead use a free or low-cost, HUD-approved housing counselor. It provides a free, searchable database you can use to find one in your state. Learn more about other housing-related scams here.  

According to the Federal Trade Commission, "scammers come up with all kinds of convincing stories to get your money. And many of them involve you wiring money through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram. Why do scammers insist that people use money transfers? Because it’s like sending cash: the scammers get the money quickly, and you can’t get it back." Learn more about these scams, and how to avoid them, here. 

There aren't quite as many credit card scams as there are different credit cards, but sometimes it feels like it. Ranging from debt consolidation cons to selling your debt outright to identity theft, the list is varied and complicated, but you can take some concrete steps to protect yourself.  

According to the FBI, Nigerian letter frauds offer the recipient "the 'opportunity' to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author -- a self-proclaimed government official -- is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria ... The scheme relies on convincing a willing victim, who has demonstrated a 'propensity for larceny' by responding to the invitation, to send money to the author of the letter in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts for a variety of reasons." Learn more here. 

According to the federal government, "deceptive pitches for investments often misrepresent or leave out facts in order to promote fantastic profits with little risk. No investment is risk-free and a high rate of return means greater risk. Before investing, get written information such as a prospectus or annual report." Click here for tips on identifying potential scammers and here to get more information from the FBI about internet scams.



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