Common Ways Scammers Get Your Info and Your Money

Sometimes when I read about scams I think, “How could someone fall for that?” Then I clicked on a fateful email myself and realized how easily it could be done. Below are a few examples of scams our clients have recently encountered. We are sharing these stories to help you be more alert and to avoid being scammed.

You’ve Been Hacked

I’ve had my credit card number stolen a few times (luckily the credit card companies stand by their claim that you won’t have to pay for fraudulent charges), so I wasn’t terribly surprised when I received an email from Microsoft saying my email had been hacked and to “click here” to protect myself. When I clicked on the link, I let the hacker right into my account. I spent the next week adding two-factor authentication to my account, learning how to track the geographical location of logins, and changing my password numerous times to finally shut the door on the hacker.

It was a mess. I’ve received similar emails since and have learned my lesson to not click on anything in an email. Instead I go to the named website independent of the email. Here I log in and see if I’ve been hacked. I change my password whether I’ve been hacked or not for good measure. (For related reading, see: 5 Biggest Credit Card Data Hacks in History.)

I’m in Jail

One of our clients received a phone call from his grandson who was crying hysterically on the phone. He said he was in jail and needed bail money. Since he was crying hysterically, it was hard to discern that the voice wasn’t right. They had enough information on the grandson to make the situation sound legitimate and Grandpa didn’t find the situation too far-fetched. The “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad!” request made it hard to verify.

This Grandpa wasn’t going to send any money until he could figure out if this was real. He drove to the grandson’s place of work to check up on him. Thankfully for all involved, the grandson was at work like he was supposed to be. 

We Need to Verify Your Information

Imagine you receive a call from your financial institution. They tell you there is a problem with your account but before they can go any further they need to verify that this is you. This recently happened to a client as she was on her way out the door, and to speed up her departure she gave them all the information they requested. Only after she hung up the phone did she realize her mistake. Scammers will take advantage of any opening they can, whether it’s your limited time, concern for your funds or lack of sophistication. (For related reading, see: Stop Scams in Their Tracks.)

I’ve Had a Terrible Accident in Ghana and Need Cash for an Operation

One client had a growing friendship with a man she met when she was out of town. Our scammer was a charming fellow from Europe, whose wife had died a few years ago. He was about to retire to spend more time with our client but had one last job to do as an independent contractor in Ghana for a month and was taking his daughter along with him. On the very last day, he and his daughter were in a terrible accident, which left his leg mangled. He needed cash to have surgery and wanted to use funds from her investment account to help him out. The client sent me pictures of his mangled leg. This story didn’t seem right to us, so we started researching.

Our research led us to the U.S. State Department’s website that said this scam was textbook—a European, whose wife has died, takes his daughter on one last trip to Africa and gets in a car accident on the last day. The only part of the story that was unusual was that she had met him in person. We were able to do a reverse Google image search on the picture of the mangled leg and found the exact photo had been in a newspaper article three years prior!  Thankfully, no funds were sent.

It can happen to anyone. You might be distracted, worried, kind-hearted or maybe just don’t put the pieces together until it’s too late. Birchwood has put together the following resources to help avoid scams and help you know what to do if your personal information has been compromised:

  • Tips to Help Avoid Being Scammed
  • Suspect Fraud? Action Steps on What to Do Next
  • Signs to look for if you think someone is scamming you.
  • This website lists common types of scams, popular scams and where to report a scam.

(For more from this author, see: Do You Have a Retirement Timeline?)


Investment Advisory services offered through Birchwood Financial Partners, Inc. an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. All written content is for information purposes only. It is not intended to provide any tax or legal advice or provide the basis for any financial decisions. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Birchwood Financial Partners, Inc., and our editorial staff. Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. All information and ideas should be discussed in detail with your individual adviser or qualified professional before making any financial decisions. We are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any government agency. Investopedia may include additional links. The inclusion of any link is not an endorsement of any products or services by Birchwood Financial Partners. All links have been provided only as a convenience.