In order to best prevent fraud, it’s important to know and to remember the basic tactics used by scammers. One way is to remember “the four Ps”: Pretend, problem, pressure, pay. Many scam tactics boil down to these four words. So let’s break it down!


Scammers PRETEND to be from an organization you know—for instance, they often pretend to be contacting you on behalf of the government. They might use a real name, like the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare, or make up a name that sounds official. Some pretend to be from a business you know, like a utility company, a tech company, or even a charity asking for donations. They use “spoofing” technology to change the phone number that appears on your caller ID. The name and number you see might not be real.


Scammers typically say there’s a PROBLEM. You’re in trouble with the government. You owe money. Someone in your family had an emergency. There’s a virus on your computer. Sometimes this problem will be a direct appeal for funds, or sometimes it will be an attempt to get information out of you such as your account numbers, passwords, or other critical information.


One big giveaway is that scammers PRESSURE you to act immediately. Scammers want you to act before you have time to think. If you’re on the phone, they might tell you not to hang up, so you can’t check out their story. They might threaten to arrest you, sue you, take away your driver’s or business license, or deport you. They might say your computer is about to be corrupted. This never happens with legitimate requests.


Finally, scammers tell you to PAY in a specific way. They often insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company, cryptocurrency ATM, or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back.

In clearheaded moments, all of us understand that a government agency or financial institution would never ask for payment using a gift card, which is why the first three Ps are deployed – to keep you from thinking straight. But if you learn to recognize the pattern, you won’t fall for it!

Stay informed about current scams and fight fraud today!