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How to Spot a Phone Scam

Phone calls usually have an urgent issue that you need to attend to immediately.

This may sound familiar: The caller says that you’ve won a prize! To collect it, the caller needs your personal identification or asks you to provide some fee or initial payment to be eligible for greater winnings.

Or, “the IRS” needs you to immediately pay an amount overdue on past filings to avoid an audit. Or, “the IRS” has received your tax return and now requires more information to process your filing.

Sometimes the call or the email contact will present an attractive opportunity for you, or they may urge you to quickly take action to avoid a penalty, or legal action.

Scammers often try to pose as your financial institution, too. They may spoof your credit union's phone number and ask you for your online banking credentials, credit or debit card numbers or PINs, or other personal information.

Note: Northwest Community Credit Union will never ask you for your online banking credentials or PIN number.

“Any time you are asked for money in a way that you were not expecting, just hit the pause button. Taking a moment to check with trusted sources can possibly save yourself thousands of dollars and much heartache,” said Northwest Community Credit Union Vice President of Risk Management, Ken Santos.

Any time you are asked for money in a way that you were not expecting, just hit the pause button.

“Slow down; ask questions, or get someone to take a second look at it – a family member or trusted friend or your financial institution can give you some perspective or help you evaluate the opportunity.”

How to identify a scam

Are they trying to get sensitive personal information? If the caller is asking you for social security, credit card or bank account numbers, it’s likely a scam.

Don’t give information; get information. Ask for the caller’s contact information (name and phone number) and explain that you will immediately return the call, but you are busy and not available to do business this moment.

If the caller presses you with some reason you must respond right now, hang up. Nothing is so time-sensitive and important that it must be done within the next five minutes.

Are you being coached or given instruction? This is an indicator you are being led through a scheme. If they’re telling you how or when to wire money or giving you instructions on the best way to get them large sums of money in different methods, it is likely a scammer.

Does the demand or offer involve gift cards or cash advances? Sometimes the promise of a refund is the bait to get a consumer to begin an elaborate string of transfers or some movement of money through alternate means, credit cards, or cash advances. No government agency or legitimate financial institution will encourage you to make required payments with gift cards.

Verify the call. Check independently with the source the contact gave. If it’s about your financial accounts, call your financial institution directly. If it appears to be an IRS matter, call your local IRS representative directly. The Oregon Department of Justice provides online complaint filing at or by phone at (877) 877-9392.

Think you are a potential scam victim?

If you think you’ve been scammed or that someone is currently trying to scam you over the phone, here are places you can reach out to for help or more information:

Worried about other scams?

Read More About Other Types of Fraud