Avoiding Internet Scams

After years of working on complex financial crimes, we have learned from experience that prevention is the best tool. By the time the FBI is notified of suspicious behavior or a possible crime, an individual’s nest egg, 401(k) account, college fund, or bank account is often unrecoverable, at least not in full. However, when people know what to look for in recognizing scammer tradecraft, we can all avoid becoming potential victims.

Remember: anyone can fall victim, even an FBI agent! Recently my personal bank account was hacked. Someone took control online and set things up so they could drain my accounts. My bank shut the scam down quickly, but it threw my finances into chaos for about two weeks. How can this be avoided? Like the Boy Scouts, be prepared and pay attention to the warning signs.


1) Cold calls, texts, or emails out of nowhere with offers of friendship, an easy payday, or prizes from contests you never entered

• Facebook friend requests from strangers

• Overseas contacts from “lost” family members

• Caller ID numbers can be spoofed

2) Unsolicited computer technician help

• Pop-up windows online scaring you with notices that your computer is infected

• Never call those numbers

3) Impersonation of authority with threats

• Authorities will never call you with threats of arrest unless you pay them “fines” over the phone.

4) Advance payment to receive a reward such as a jackpot, lottery, or work-at-home job

• Don’t pay upfront for a promise of something greater in return

5) Demanding payment using prepaid credit or money cards, or even iTunes cards

6) Situations where you become a middleman in a transaction of money or goods that are sent to you with a request to be forwarded somewhere else

7. “Something for Nothing”

8. “Emergencies”

• Grandchildren in Mexican jails or stuck overseas without money

What to do if you realize you’ve fallen for a scam:

1) If you sent money, call your bank IMMEDIATELY!

• Stop payment

• Close accounts, open new ones

• Cancel credit cards

2. Call the local police department and file a report

3. File scam reports on:

• Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov

• Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov

• These sites have very good advice and tips as well

4. Report to the Better Business Bureau

Armed with this knowledge, you will be best equipped to avoid being taken advantage of. If you recognize that you have been scammed, remember that anyone can fall victim! It’s not your fault. It’s the bad guy’s fault. Act quickly to minimize the damage.

Paul Toepfer is an FBI agent.
He can be reached at 614.849.1815.