Because the U.S. financial system can be overwhelming and confusing for new immigrants, falling prey to financial scams and tricks is not uncommon. 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. Knowing what is real and what is not can be difficult. 

“A topic we often address in class is scams over the phone and identity theft,” said Joanna Caouette, ProsperityME’s Director of Programs. “Receiving phone calls from the Internal Revenue Service (tax collection agency) or other supposedly government agencies can be very stressful and triggering to a lot of immigrants who think that they are real calls and that the threats are real. Many share their Social Security Number, date of birth, or bank account information, hoping that it will fix whatever error they think is on their file.” 

The Federal Trade Commission received over 2.2 million fraud reports in 2020, and “imposter” fraud was one of the most common complaints. Scammers would pretend to work for a government agency, credit repair service, loan servicer, or 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, being cautious and staying calm is best regarding unknown phone numbers or email addresses. “A good practice we share with students is to remember that the U.S. government will likely never contact them by phone and will always send them a letter through the mail.”  

Another strategy for handling unknown callers is to ask for a callback number. A quick Google search will usually reveal the location of the caller. Simply end the call if the situation is suspicious. 

The same is true for unknown email requests. Email addresses unassociated with an agency or company website are usually spammers, and an internet search will usually identify the real sender. Most email clients have built-in spam filters but they are not perfect. A firewall or security program should be installed on computers and smartphones for additional security. If a suspicious email contains a link, never open it as it may be a virus that can harm the device or steal any sensitive personal information located on it. 

Registering a phone number on the “Do Not Call” registry maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a government agency, will prevent it from receiving spam calls. Legitimate businesses also are legally prevented from calling listed phone numbers. If unwanted calls and text messages are still 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 contact their bank, credit card company, wire transfer service, or money transfer app (such as Paypal, Venmo, and similar services) to report a fraudulent payment and ask for help. The FTC website has guidelines to help victims recover money lost to a scammer and, by reporting, future fraud can be prevented. 

Helpful links and information: 

Official Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website: www.consumer.ftc.gov/ 

Report a scam: reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/ 

Help recovering from a scam: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-do-if-you-were-scammed 

Credit Reporting Information: www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports 

“Do Not Call” list: www.donotcall.gov/