4 tips to protect yourself from scams, and what to do if you fall victim

A cellphone shows a call from a likely scammer. (Dreamstime/TNS)
A cellphone shows a call from a likely scammer. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Here are tips from Investigator Al Perales with the Office of the Iowa Attorney General on avoiding getting caught in a scam.

If it’s too good to be true, beware

When someone tells you you’ve won a million dollars — or even a thousand dollars — be suspicious. If someone you’ve never met in person professes their true love, if you could only send them some cash for a plane ticket, be suspicious.

“Scammers understand human nature,” Perales said. “A lonely person is a perfect target for a scammer. They’ll connect with them. I’ve talked to folks here in Iowa who have lost $50,000, $100,00, $250,000 in ‘sweetheart’ scams.”

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Always double check

“Before you sign that dotted line, click on that link or sign that contract, double check it,” Perales said. “Bring in a friend or loved one, call the library, call the Better Business Bureau, call our office.”

In other words, don’t take anything at face value, especially where your money or personal information is involved.

If someone is claiming to be a relative or friend, stop the conversation and get in touch with them through another means. Perales said a common scam starts by receiving a message from a Facebook friend, but that person’s account may have been hacked.


Another common scam is known as “the grandparent scam” and involves someone claiming to be a grandchild or a lawyer calling on behalf of a grandchild in trouble.

Other common scams involve fake apartment listings or high end items such as cars or RVs for sale at very good prices. Always see the item in person before putting any money down, Perales cautioned.

Beware of urgency, secrecy

“The IRS scam is still rampant. They use fear. They threaten you — ‘If you don’t take care of this right now, there’s going to be a warrant out for your arrest,’” Perales said. “With all scams what the scammer does is they try to create a situation that’s so strong on your emotions. There are all these red flags, but you don’t see them because your emotions are going.”

Just hang up

Robocalls and phone scams have exploded in recent years.

“If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer the call. It’s OK to not be ‘Iowa Nice,’” Perales said. “And never get out your personal or financial information over the phone.”

Think you may have been a victim?

First, stop all communication with the perpetrator, Perales said. Then report the scam. Call local law enforcement or the Office of the Iowa Attorney General at (888) 777-4590 or file a complaint online at

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