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Here to Learn: Heed these red flags of scams

I was cleaning up the dishes from dinner when the phone rang. The voice on the other end was cheerful and vaguely familiar.

“Hi, Grandma.”

“Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s your grandson,” he replied.

“Well, which one? I have many.”

“Your favorite one, of course.”

“You’re all my favorite.”

“Grandma, it’s me, Michael.”

I paused. I have a son named Michael, not a grandson.

“Hello Michael, how are you doing?”

The person on the other end began to tell me about a fundraiser for school and asked if I would be interested in helping him out. He told me the fundraising period was ending that evening and he needed this last donation from me to reach his goal.

I politely told “Michael” that someone was at the door, and I would have to call him right back. His tone changed from lighthearted to urgent and he asked me to stay on the line to finish the fundraising information. It didn’t feel right, and I hung up the phone.

This is just one of a dozen stories shared with me about common phone, email or text scams.

Scammers are clever and convincing in their attempts to manipulate you into giving them sensitive personal and financial information. They often use just enough information to gain your trust or may even pretend to be a family member or friend. Identifying a phone call, email or text as a scam can save you time and money and spare yourself some heartache.

Here are some common red flags to help identify phone, email, or text message scams.

Pressure and urgency

Scammers want to keep you on the phone to build trust and get as much information from you as possible. They often create an urgent or time-sensitive situation, prompting you to act before thinking.


Scammers may try to convince you they are from a financial institution or company to help fix a problem such as unauthorized activity on your account or a virus on your computer. If they give you instructions to “fix” the problem that includes contacting or going to another business and repeating what they say, especially if they want you to remain on the line with them as you do so, it may very well be a scam.


A popular scam that comes through text message or email claims that you have won a prize or contest. These scams give you false hope that you have won a prize or contest, and that you just have to pay a small registration or shipping fee. These will often appear to come from companies or businesses you are familiar with, but the font, logo, or look of the email or text is just a little bit off. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Fundraising, donations

Scammers may try to take advantage of your kindness and generosity by setting up fake charity or disaster relief donation campaigns. They may request donations in the form of gift cards, prepaid debit cards, or even wire transfers. This is a red flag. Your best bet is to contact your local chapter or charity directly to obtain donation information.

Clicking links

Email and text scams often use links to gain access to sensitive personal or financial information and to send viruses. These messages ask you to use the link to verify your account details, change your password, or access your account. Instead of clicking the link, access your account using the known, unique web address of the site and log in with your secure credentials. Legitimate sites often begin with “https://” signifying they encrypt data, allowing for secure communication over the internet. You may also see a padlock icon in front of the web address when you visit the site. When in doubt, hang up, delete or ignore requests that you click on a link or provide personal and financial information. Use the known, published number or go to the secure website if you need to connect with someone from that organization. It is better to be safe than sorry.

LauraLee Raukar is an education outreach specialist at Members Cooperative Credit Union in Cloquet. She is a certified credit union financial counselor and a licensed teacher.

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