Because the U.S. financial system can be overwhelming and confusing for new immigrants, it’s not uncommon for them to fall prey to financial scams and tricks. Many bad actors are looking to steal personal information, and they tend to target vulnerable people: immigrants, very young adults, the elderly, and people in financial trouble. It can be difficult to tell what is honest and what is not.

“A topic we often address in class is scams over the phone, and identity theft. Receiving phone calls from agents claiming to be from the IRS or other government agencies can be very stressful, and trigger fear and anxiety in immigrants who think these are honest calls, and that the threats described in them are real. Many go ahead and share their Social Security numbers, dates of birth, or bank information, hoping that this will fix whatever error they are told they have made,” says Joanna Caouette, ProsperityME’s Program Director.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 2.2 million fraud reports in 2020 and “imposter” fraud was one of the most common complaints. This is when scammers pretend to work for a government agency, a credit repair service as a loan servicer, or as an insurance agency to trick people out of their money. Unsolicited phone calls, emails, and text messages are some of the primary methods scammers use to get personal information.

According to Caouette, regarding phone numbers or emails from unknown individuals, it’s best to be cautious and to stay calm. “A good practice we share with students is to remember that the U.S. government will likely never contact them by phone, and always will send a letter through the regular mail, rather than through email.”

One strategy for handling unknown callers is to ask for a callback number. A quick Google search will usually reveal the location of the caller, and whether or not they hold a position in the organization they have mentioned. Ending the call if the situation is suspicious is entirely acceptable.

The same strategy can be used with email addresses. Messages from individuals who are not listed on an agency or company website are usually sent by spammers. An internet search will usually quickly connect an honest writer with a company. Built-in spam filters on email programs are not perfect. A firewall or security program should be installed on computers and smartphones for additional security.

To avoid receiving scam calls, phone numbers can be registered on the “Do Not Call” registry maintained by the FTC. Legitimate businesses are legally prevented from calling phone numbers on the “Do Not Call” registry. If unwanted calls and text messages continue to be a problem, cell phone users can install a call-blocking app, and there are many popular choices for different phone models. Scam phone calls and texts can be reported to the FTC.

Finally, victims of scams should report the incident to the FTC, and contact their bank, credit card company, wire transfer service, or money transfer app (like PayPal) to report a fraudulent payment. The FTC website has guidelines to help victims recover money lost to a scammer. By reporting unfortunate incidents, future fraud can be prevented.

Helpful links and information: The official website of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
Report a scam:
How to recover from a scam:
Credit reporting information:
Do Not Call list: