SCAM ALERT: Top scams and how to avoid them
Adobe Stock. Credit: Timur Arbaev

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) says thieves have stepped up their game when it comes to getting your coins. While there are a number of scams you may be aware of, officials say crafty criminals are targeting unsuspecting consumers more and more and disenfranchised communities are being hit the hardest.

A recent study from Social Catfish, a company that aids citizens in avoiding online scams, found that Texas ranked second highest in the nation for the total number of scam victims in 2021, totaling 41,148 people who lost an average of $14,732. Overall, Texans lost $606,179,646. California held the top spot with 67,095 victims losing $1.2 billion to financial scams. 

The BBB’s Scam Tracker reported several hundred scams in the Greater Houston area since the beginning of 2022, including some you may not be aware of. Here are some of them:

Rental. Landlords who may not own the properties up for sale are asking for security deposits or first month’s rent before the renter is shown the listing in person. Unsuspecting renters show up to move in and only to find other victims, and no house key in sight.

Phishing/smishing/vishing. The victim receives an email (phishing), phone call (vishing) or text message (smishing). In the communication, the scammer urges the target to click a link, share information or download an attachment that likely contains malware. In the case of an email or text, the link frequently leads to a form, which prompts the target to enter personal information.

Text scams: Scammers have spoofed caller ID to appear as “Mom” or “Dad.” They are relying on the fact that many people have “Dad” or “Mom” saved in their contacts list. Scammers hope you won’t think twice (or double-check the phone number) before sending help, normally a request for money. If you do transfer money to a bank or digital wallet account, your money will be gone for good.

“I see you watching porn.” Con artists email or text that they know you’ve been watching online pornography and if you don’t pay a fee, they’re going to release the videos/pictures to the public.

Tech support scams. Your computer/laptop shows an error. You Google and dial the first number that pops up. The “tech” who answers says they need remote access to your computer, which enables them to install malware that records passwords, keystrokes, or other files that contain personal information.

Student loan scams. You receive a call or voicemail from someone claiming to represent a new student loan forgiveness program. To see if you qualify for forgiveness, the scammer insists that you need to complete an online application form, which asks for personal information, such as your bank account details.

QR code scams. Fraudulent QR codes are often placed on the back of parking meters, leading victims to assume that they can pay for parking through the QR code if they do not have change. Con artists can easily create a QR code for free online, which they then print on stickers and either cover up an actual QR code or place where it makes logical sense. After paying for the spot through the QR code, some victims return to find their vehicle has been towed or received a parking ticket for non-payment, multiplying the amount of money lost. In other cases, after scanning a code found in an email, text or on a flyer, some victims are directed to a website that requests personal information that can lead to identity theft, compromised passwords for online accounts or downloads that track the user’s activity on the device.

Work from home. With the pandemic also came huge increases in remote working scams.

Bank jugging. A thief patiently observes customers inside or outside a bank, follows the customer, then burglarizes the vehicle or victim directly.

Law enforcement calls. Callers pretending to be law enforcement call and threaten people with arrest for an alleged federal warrant unless they pay a specific amount immediately. The callers are given the actual phone number of deputies, counting on victims not to call.

Sweepstakes/lottery/prizes. These rely on your excitement to lure you into paying fees for your prize or typically require that you provide your personal information with the intent of compromising your identity. Remember, you should never have to pay fees for winning a prize. You will also never win a lottery you never entered.

Identity theft. While scammers certainly want access to your finances, also valuable are your Social Security number, debit/credit card info, pin numbers, password, and any other items containing your personal information. If this sensitive information falls into the hands of a criminal, it may be used to steal your identity and open new accounts.

Online purchase scams. It may seem as if some of the best deals may be found online but use caution. It’s easy for a scammer to hijack photos from a legitimate retailer and post prices that seem too good to be true. Make sure you are dealing with a legitimate seller who has a history of conducting business ethically by going to

Government grant. Victims receive a phone call, email or letter stating they qualified for a government grant, but to receive the grant you must pay the processing and/or delivery fee via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Remember, the government does not award grants for which there has been no application.

Fake Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents. Scammers posing as IRS agents contact consumers either claiming they could help them expedite stimulus checks or that they owed back taxes and threaten lawsuits and arrest if payment is not sent immediately. Keep in mind, the IRS does not make threatening phone calls, nor do you send payment via unconventional methods such as gift cards or wire transfers.

Employers. Scammers advertise a job opening or guarantee job placement if you pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in a job. However, after you pay, there’s no job and you are out of money. Remember, if a potential employer asks you to pay the company to cover the costs of testing, training or background checks, consider it a red flag.

Debt collection. Consumers report receiving harassing calls and/or calls for debts that are not owed. Remember, there are debt collection process rules in place to prevent unethical collection business practices.

5 signs it’s a scam

Scammers try new methods to trick you all the time. But if you know the signs to look for, you may avoid becoming a victim.

  1. They contacted you. When someone contacts you first, you can’t be certain they’re telling the truth. Remember, email addresses and caller ID information can be faked.
  2. They dangle bait — usually money. You’ve heard it before – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Especially when it comes to money. People simply don’t give away large sums of money easily. If someone dangles bait in front of you — a big prize, a shopping spree, an easy loan — for nothing, they’re probably lying.
  3. They want your personal information. Anytime anyoneasks for your personal information — bank accounts, Social Security number, etc. — you should be on alert. Don’t give it away quickly or easily, especially to someone you don’t know.
  4. You have to pay them first. If someone offers you a prize, debt relief, or employment — but first you have to pay an upfront fee to get it — you’re probably being scammed.
  5. You have to wire money or send gift cards. If you’re about to wire money or send gift cards to someone in order to receive a prize, or pay off a debt collector that contacts you…STOP!

Protect yourself

  1. Block unwanted calls and text messages. 
  2. Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect.
  3. Resist the pressure to act immediately.
  4. Never pay someone you don’t know with a gift card or by using a money transfer service.
  5. Stop and talk to someone you trust. 
  6. Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails – delete them.
  7. Don’t respond to phone calls about your computer asking for remote access – hang up.
  8. Keep your personal details, mobile devices and computers secure.
  9. Choose your passwords carefully.
  10. Resist the urge to scam the scammer for revenge.