Decoding Common Scams: A Guide to Recognizing Fraud

While no two scams are alike, the most common scams are executed in a similar way. Criminals usually take advantage of text messages, emails, and phone calls to impersonate an organization you have a relationship with as a customer.

Banks are a common target since customers can be tricked into providing account information and access to their funds. Otherwise, scammers attempt get access to the email accounts, passwords, and other information of their victim’s account numbers and social security numbers. Knowing what these scams typically look like can help you protect yourself. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these common scam examples so you know what to expect.

Text Message Scams
Text message scams prey on your level of comfort with receiving text message updates from companies. If you have signed up for Short Messaging Service (SMS) alerts, (such as text messages), you are probably used to receiving information on shipped packages, authorization codes, or purchase updates. Text scams attempt to impersonate these messages to convince you to click on a link or share sensitive account or financial information with a scammer. Some common impersonation scams include:
  • Fake delivery notification text messages
  • "Suspicious log-in attempt” text messages
  • Bank/financial institution fraud alert text messages
  • Text messages from a “coworker” or “boss”
  • Sweepstakes, giveaways, lottery text messages
  • Past-due bill/invoice text messages
While you don’t have a great way to filter out these text messages, they are usually easier to spot since they come from an unrecognized number and often seem suspicious. Whenever you receive a text message from an unknown number, remain skeptical. The best option is to sign into the official website or calling the company using a known phone number to follow up on what the text message is claiming.

Email Scams
Much like text scams, email scams take advantage of your familiarity with receiving emails from companies and businesses with which you have accounts. Unlike text scams, emails make it easier to mask a scam and present it with a more legitimate appearance. However, if you are savvy, there are more places to check that can help reveal a scam.

If you are suspicious of an email, your first instinct should always be to check the email sender’s name. While the display name may appear legitimate, clicking or tapping the sender’s name will show the source email address. For instance, if you receive an email that appears to be from Pioneer, tapping on the sender’s name and discovering that the email came from a Gmail address would reveal that you are dealing with a scammer. However, scammers also spoof emails where the email sender’s name appears exactly as it were legitimate. Spoofing emails is where the scammer changes the metadata of an email to make the email appear as if were legitimate, but in reality is a forged email that is controlled by the scammer.

You should be wary of hyperlinks in email – sometimes using a link is enough to provide a scammer with information. Instead, you should investigate the link. Most scammers will mask suspicious-looking links by having it hyperlink over text. For instance, the link may appear legitimate as “”, but take you to a scam page. On a computer, hovering over any links with a mouse will reveal the true link. On a mobile device, you can do the same by tapping and holding on a link for more information without linking through. Some common email scams include:
  • Advance fee emails
  • Google/Microsoft documents emails
  • Account deactivation emails
  • Sweepstakes, giveaways, lottery emails
  • Emails from a “coworker or boss”
  • Tech support/virus alert emails
  • Employment/job offer emails
When it comes to email scams, like most others, you are your own best defense. Do not click on any link you are unsure of. If something feels off, take the time to investigate the email using the previous steps. If the email appears legitimate, navigate to the company’s page separately by typing in the company’s website or reach out to the real primary email contact to follow up.

Phone Call Scams
Phone call scams are of a different nature from email and text scams. If you answer a scam call, you are dealing with the scammer themselves. Since they have your attention, they will often they will often create a sense of urgency, threaten, or coerce you and force you to do something rash before you think it through.

Phone scams may originate from a computer pop up directing you to call a number. Never call the number from a computer pop up, instead call the company to confirm the pop up is legitimate from a known number from their website. Law enforcement, commerce stores, anti-virus protection companies, etc. will not contact you via a computer pop up.

Scammers will typically advise of an account being on hold, a fee being due, or even tell you their job is on the line. They will then follow it up with a threat if it isn’t addressed immediately. However, this isn’t how companies operate. If you are ever skeptical of a phone call, don’t be afraid to hang up or call back. Some common phone scams include:
  • Overdue bills phone calls
  • Free vacation/won the lottery phone calls
  • Debt relief/credit repair phone calls
  • False charity/non-profit phone calls
  • Healthcare/medical alert phone calls
  • IRS/tax phone calls
  • Business investment phone calls
  • Bank Fraud Alerts phone calls
  • Company Impersonations phone calls (virus detected, package delay, etc.)
Always be on your guard and know that your biggest strength is being able to hang up the phone. Hang up the phone and call back on the official number you find on the company’s website, or on the back of your credit or debit card. This removes the ability for scammers to manipulate you on the phone.

Other Scams
These three types of scams are some of the most common, but they are far from the only tactics scammers use to fool unsuspecting victims. You should always remain vigilant and know what common warning signs to look for. In addition to the resources and information in this blog, you can visit our Scam Alerts page for more information. Pioneer keeps this page up to date with the latest local scams and tactics so you can protect yourself and know what to look out for.

Additional Scam Resources:
The material provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. Links to other web sites are provided for reference and do not constitute a referral or endorsement by Pioneer or its affiliates. Please note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not be current. It is recommended that you consult with a financial professional for assistance regarding the information contained herein.