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How Scammers Like to Be Paid

Understanding swindlers' preferred payment may help you spot a scam before it starts


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There's a clear hierarchy in how scammers want you to pay them. “Crooks prefer to get money in forms that aren't traceable or erasable,” says Amy Nofziger, a fraud expert for AARP. “Knowing their preferences may make it easier to spot their schemes.” Here's what you should know.

Credit/debit cards and checks

Scammers rarely accept these, as the transactions are all tracked, monitored and recorded by a large financial organization. Thieves want to avoid having companies like Mastercard, Citicorp or Bank of America coming after them.

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Retailer gift cards

In contrast, these are among scammers’ most-preferred payment forms, as a gift card can be quickly redeemed to buy other gift cards; once that's done, the money becomes untraceable. Scammers often sell the cards online at a discount to convert into cash.

Bitcoin

As cryptocurrencies become more accessible (Bitcoin ATMs are now widespread, and buying small increments online has become easy), crooks have grown more interested. Victims are directed to an ATM and told to buy with cash. Once the Bitcoin payment is transferred to the crook, it can't be traced.

Cash

It's still king with crooks, as it's totally untraceable. Scammers tell targets to send hard currency wrapped in newspaper or tinfoil to make it harder to spot via an overnight shipment.

P2P payments

Peer-to-peer apps Venmo, Zelle and Cash App are among apps that allow you to move funds easily to a friend or relative who also has an account. But these apps are meant for people who know and trust each other, and they don't offer the same consumer protections as your bank. Always decline transfer requests from strangers.

Wire transfer

These services remain useful for sending funds to loved ones. But criminals love them, too; MoneyGram or Western Union transfers are mostly untraceable and have limited protections. Never use these to pay a stranger.

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.