Scams and scam artists have been around for centuries. Many of today’s scams are perpetrated by criminals who are bent on stealing people’s money. These criminals often live in other states or countries and use modern technology—including throw-away cell phones and “spoofed” telephone numbers—to conceal their identity and evade law enforcement. Other times, the scams are perpetrated by unscrupulous companies or fly-by-night operations, which frequently change their names, addresses and telephone numbers to avoid detection and cover up a track record of complaints.

Below is a list of some of the more common scams. As you read this information, keep in mind that scam artists constantly reinvent new ways to perpetrate old scams. Because knowing how to spot a scam is important, we have put together a flyer that outlines some of the tell-tale red flags of a scam. For more information, read our flyer entitled How to Spot a Scam.

Tax Scams

Under this scam, a con artist calls you posing as a representative of the Internal Revenue Service, United States Department of the Treasury or law enforcement agency and demands a large payment on back taxes or some other purported debt. The con artist will often threaten you with arrest, jail or legal action to pressure you into making an immediate payment. In some cases, the con artist will ask you to provide your bank account information, which can be used to empty your bank account. Other times, the con artist may instruct you to send the payment via a wire transfer or a reloadable card. After the money is sent, the scam artist disappears and the money is typically lost for good. For more information this scam, read our flyer entitled Tax Related Identity Theft and Other Tax Scams.

Fake Check Scams

While these scams take a variety of forms, they typically begin when the scam artist sends you a real-looking check that is actually fake. You are instructed to deposit or cash the “check” and send some amount of money back to the scam artist or a third person. After the money is sent, the check bounces. By then, the money is generally lost for good. If you receive a check from someone you do not know, and that person asks you to send back some portion of the proceeds from the check, use extreme caution. You are almost certainly being targeted by a fake check scam. For more information on these types of scams, read our flyer entitled Fake Check Scams.

Reloadable Card Scams

For years, scam artists conned people into sending them money via money wiring services like Western Union and MoneyGram. Increasingly, however, scam artists are asking people to forward them money using reloadable cards. These cards are sold at stores and have a serial number that is used to transfer funds from the card. You can designate how much money to load onto the card at any given time and can use the card to make payments to companies or transfer funds to another card. If you provide the card’s serial number to a scam artist, however, the scam artist can drain all of the money from the card. Read our flyer entitled Prepaid Debit and Credit Card Scams for more information and tips on how to protect yourself from this type of fraud.

Computer Scams

These scams generally begin with a call or email from a con artist posing as a representative of a well-known company, such as Microsoft or Norton. The scam artist typically claims your computer has been infected with a virus or is not working properly because of an error. The scam artist then says that he can remove the virus or fix the error for a fee if you allow him to remotely access your computer, usually by going to a website. In some cases, the scam artist use this access to steal personal or financial information on your computer, which can be used to commit the crimes of theft or identity theft. Other times, the scam artist may attempt to install malware on your computer, which may allow the scam artist to control the computer remotely, or rogue applications that display fake security alerts to convince you to pay for a useless service. More information on this scam is available in our flyer entitled Scams Targeting Computer Owners.

Lottery Scams

Lottery scams typically begin with an unexpected email, letter or phone call from a scam artist who claims you have won money in a lottery or sweepstakes. This seemingly good news might quicken your pulse, but do not let it override your good judgment. Invariably, the scam artist will ask you to send money to pay purported taxes, insurance or other fees to claim the winnings. Or, the scam artist may ask for your bank account information, supposedly so your winning can be directly transferred into your bank account. The scam artist uses this information to empty your bank account. Once the money has been sent, contact with the scam artist is cut off, and the money is lost for good. More information on lottery scams is available in our flyers entitled Jamaican Lottery Scams and Foreign Lotteries.


Phishing scams take many forms and target people using several forms of communication, including email, phone calls, text messages, and fake websites. In most cases, the scam artist impersonates a bank, government agency or other legitimate company to lure you into disclosing your personal or financial information, which is then used to commit the crimes of theft and identity theft. More information on phishing scams is available by clicking the following: phishing, computer phishing, telephone phishing, and text message phishing. If your personal information has been disclosed to an unknown party, you may be at risk of identity theft. Our brochure, Guarding Your Privacy - Tips to Prevent Identity Theft, has more information on the steps you can take to further protect yourself. Our webpage, Identity Theft, has additional resources for identity theft victims. If an unknown party has your bank or credit card information, you should immediately contact your financial institution, as it should be able to help you protect your account.

You should report criminal activity to your local police department and sheriff’s office. Telephone numbers for these offices are available for both Police Departments and County Sheriff's Offices. You should also report such scams to the following federal agencies, as appropriate:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Minneapolis Office
1501 Freeway Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
(763) 569-8000

United States Postal Inspection Service
1745 Stout Street, Suite 900
Denver, CO 80299-3034
(877) 876-2455

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261

If you have concerns about a particular offer or believe you are the victim of a scam, we want to hear from you. You may call us at (651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area) or (800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities), or submit a Consumer Assistance Request Form.

Additional Resources

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office offers the following materials, which are designed to provide information to Minnesotans on scams in the marketplace: