7 Ridiculous Phone and Online Scams People Are Falling For

Sadly, phone and online scams are all around us. According to the FTC, nearly 11% of adults in the United States were scammed or paid for fraudulent products in 2011 alone. Yes, that many people! In fact, according to Ultrascan AGI, nearly $13 billion was taken from individuals in 2013 just from the well-known 419…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: September 6, 2019

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Sadly, phone and online scams are all around us. According to the FTC, nearly 11% of adults in the United States were scammed or paid for fraudulent products in 2011 alone. Yes, that many people!

Phone scams and online scams are everywhere. Here are several different phone and online scams that many are currently falling for. Don't be next!In fact, according to Ultrascan AGI, nearly $13 billion was taken from individuals in 2013 just from the well-known 419 email scam alone (discussed further below). There are many other online scams that exist, accounting for millions and billions more.

Unfortunately, phone and online scams are hard to avoid. I receive around 1 or 2 phone scams a day, and many more online scams are sent to my email inbox each day.

Some of these phone and online scam emails are obviously fake, whereas others can look quite real. I can easily see how some people may fall for them.

While many people believe that phone and online scams are something they would never fall for, they do exist for a reason.

Someone must be falling for them.

Someone must be losing money to them or scammers wouldn’t be attempting to steal money and/or identities in the first place.

Even though many fall victim to phone and online scams every day, there are many ways to avoid being the next victim. Below are my tips to stay safe:

  • If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Keep your personal information safe and do not give it away unless you are 100% sure that it is needed.
  • Don’t always trust the sender’s email address. If it seems fishy at all, the email may be cloaked in order to trick you.
  • Are there any misspellings in the email? There is almost always at least one misspelled word in an email scam. If you see one, then I would be very wary of an email from your bank, PayPal, etc. as that is usually a big hint that the email is fake.
  • Never click on any links or download anything in a suspicious email.
  • Create strong passwords.
  • Always be sure that it’s not an phone or online scam before you send anyone money.

Below are several different phone and online scams that many are currently falling for.


No, the IRS will not ask you to pay your bill in iTunes gift cards.

The latest phone scam that is circulating around is the iTunes gift card IRS scam.

This is where you get a phone call from someone pretending to be from the IRS. This person then says that you’ll be arrested unless you pay your taxes ASAP. They then ask you to go to the store and purchase tons of iTunes gift cards in exchange for payment.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but sadly many people are falling for it.

One person was seen by a cashier purchasing thousands of dollars in iTunes gift cards, and the cashier told them that this was a common scam. Luckily, many stores are catching onto this scam and are not allowing huge gift card purchases due to this. However, there are still some people who are falling for this.

Trust me, no one, especially the IRS, is going to accept payment in iTunes gift cards.



The 419 email scam.

The most well-known online scam is most likely the 419 email scam. Even though many know about this online scam, people still fall for it every single day.

With the 419 email scam, a victim will usually receive an email from a stranger claiming to be a prince, a government worker, or someone else. The scammer then states that their money is currently “stuck” somewhere and they need money transferred to them so that they can gain access to their money (or something similar to this story).

The scammer then offers their victim a reward for “helping them out.”

Sadly, many fall for this scam all the time. Victims usually give up money of their own as well as their identity, and they receive nothing in return.

If you receive an email from someone claiming to be a foreign prince or something similar, just delete the email immediately. No prince is going to email you, no matter how interesting that sounds.


The online relationship scam.

There’s nothing wrong with online relationships or meeting someone online. However, you need to be careful, and please don’t send them money unless you are 1,000% positive that it’s a real person and you actually want to do it.

Sadly, there are many online scammers who will pretend to be in a relationship with you just so they can get your money. They’ll make up some scam story so that you’ll send them money, and then they’ll keep doing it over and over again.

They’ll make excuses for why they can’t see you in person or talk to you, but those are usually just lies so that you can’t figure out who they actually are.

Most of the time, the person is nowhere near the person who you thought it would be.


The “You won $1 million!” online scams.

Oh, the lottery scam… Rarely a week goes by where I don’t “win” $100,000,000.

In fact, last night I “won” one billion dollars!

If only these emails were real, right?

The lottery email scam is when a scammer sends an email stating that you have won the lottery. They only need you to pay some money upfront before you can claim your lottery winnings. They also may say that they are required to get your personal information.

Trust me, no one is going to send you an email when you win a million or a billion dollars. You will know if this is fake because you most likely never even entered to win a foreign lottery in the first place. Lotteries also never ask for you to pay for fees, so that is another clue.

Plus, what’s the chance that you’ve won the lottery anyways?

Related: Phone Scams: The Best Tips To Avoid Becoming A Victim


The job scam.

Almost 10 years ago, I tried finding a nanny job on the side of my full-time job so that I could earn extra money.

I exchanged several emails with one potential “family.” They offered to pay me well, but then I received an email asking for a ton of information that I knew they did not need. They asked for my social security number, my bank account information, and more.

I thought that was very odd. We had never met, the interview process was too easy, and there was no reason for them to need that information in the first place. They offered to pay me more and more money as long as I would give them my personal information. Once I called them out on their online scam, I never heard back from them.

The job scam is when you apply for a job and then the hiring manager tells you that you got the job with very little effort on your part. There are no interviews or the interviews are very easy, the job supposedly pays surprisingly well, has great benefits, and so on.

That’s when the online scammer scams you.

They ask for a ton of personal information they say is needed to fill out your employee paperwork, set up direct deposit, and so on. While many jobs do need certain information, if you easily get a job that seems too good to be true, then you should be very wary of any information that you give to them. At least talk to the person and do your research to figure out whether or not the position is real.


The PayPal scam.

The PayPal scam is something I receive almost every day. Since I regularly deal with PayPal for my business, these are the type of scams I truly hate. They also seem to be appearing more and more authentic, so I’m sure there are plenty of people falling for them.

The PayPal online scam is when you receive an email from someone who is claiming to be PayPal or works for PayPal. The email usually states that your PayPal account is locked, that something is wrong, and so on. They then ask you to click on a link in the email which will supposedly take you to PayPal’s website.

However, the link doesn’t actually take you to PayPal’s website. It takes you to a website that looks VERY much like PayPal’s website but is an online scam. It’s actually a scammer trying to get your username and password so that they can drain your PayPal account.

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself against the PayPal scam:

  • You should never click on a link that you are questioning. Instead, head on over to PayPal yourself and log in.
  • Call PayPal if something is wrong. Find their correct contact information on PayPal’s website, not the information in the email.
  • Check the sender’s email. In some cases, scammers may cloak the email address so it will look like it’s coming straight from PayPal, so this may not be enough. However, most of the time the email address is something obviously fake, such as Pay.Pal.df912@gmail.com, so that is usually your first clue.


This picture consists of two Craigslist scam emails I received placed into one document so that you could see the full online scam that I was sent.
This picture consists of two Craigslist scam emails I received, and placed into one document so that you could see the full online scam that I was sent.

The Craigslist rental scam.

The Craigslist rental scam is something that I came across a lot after we sold our house and moved into a house rental for a short period of time.

You can read more about this in my post Craigslist Scams I Encountered When Looking For A Rental Plus Real Scam Emails.

Here are several Craigslist rental scams:

  • A person physically shows you a home, but they don’t actually own it. They may break in through a window or change the locks. You then give them a deposit and when it’s time to move in, you find out that the online scammer is nowhere to be found!
  • You see a rental that is really amazing, and guess what? It’s at a great price and beats pretty much every single Craigslist rental that you’ve found. Well, guess what? This online scammer is hoping that you’ll send a deposit and/or the first or last month’s payment, and then the online scammer disappears before you move in.

With Craigslist scams, they are pretty much all wanting the same thing. They want you to send a deposit and/or the first or last month’s payment, and then they disappear with your money.

Or, some people have actually moved into the home (the homeowner is usually on a long vacation or the house is foreclosed), and they are then kicked out a month or two later!

This is one of the horrible online scams, and sadly it gets many people every single year.

What other online or phone scams have you heard of? Have you ever fallen for online scams?


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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Thanks for this post! It’s sad that people actually do this to others but a great reminder to be alert to what’s online

  2. Gary @ Super Saving Tips

    A common scam we get is when someone calls from “Windows Computer Center” or something similar and tells you that you have a virus on your computer. They get access to your computer to “fix” the fictional virus, only to install malware that either steals your sensitive data and/or requires you to pay them to fix the actual problem they have now caused. Since many people, particularly seniors, are not savvy when it comes to technology, they find a lot of victims.

    1. UGH! There are so many horrible scams that exist.

  3. Dani

    The Craigslist car scam is one that we recognized pretty quickly, but it was an ad with a nice car that had a BB value a couple thousand dollars higher than the ad, and some sob story about a servicewoman that was currently stationed in Nebraska (then why is the ad in the Denver CL? First clue) but about to be stationed in Alaska, so the car was already crated and would be ready to send to Denver. Um, yeah, not gonna happen. I mean, who buys a car without test driving it first? And why wouldn’t it be more to ship it crated… Interestingly, they had screwed up and lost track of where they had posted the ad and there was another similar (not exact) ad with the exact same photographs. Pretty sloppy, which kind of surprised me, because the English was very good (not “peek inside as I am here with keys” when more conversational English would be “I have the keys with me…”) and response was fairly quick.
    BTW, the IRS scam also accepts Target cards, so if your local store is out of iTunes cards, you can always ask if they’ll accept alternate forms of payment ;P (p.s. ask me how I know)

    1. The scammers always have some sort of sob story!

  4. Tricia

    Good article like always! People like myself need to screen companies prior to rushing to the bank with a check or giving out bank info. on websites. One tip I most often do if I receive an email like the PayPal update scam is to cut and paste the link into a word document prior to clicking on it to read the full website address, then compare it to actual website address. It’s a simple way to see full address. Then, I add this link to junk or scam files so I don’t need to be bought with it again.

    After reading many of your articles on side jobs, I signed up to be a mystery shopper. Wow! $360.00 a week. (From an email offer, off of InBox surveys). Sounds good to me…well, I am now in the processes of filling a claim with the FBI with this scammer. First, I received the check for $2,978.00 to shop at Walmart with thieir list, but I need to deposit check first notify company via text I deposited the check, wait a full 24 hours to start shopping, but need to wait to hear from person first. (Sounded fishy!) secondly, the check looked weird: No company name, Bank addrees was a PO Box and finally amount and written amount were oddity placed on check (Another red flag!) I decided to check Bank’s address online and the location of headquarters. The name of the Bank was only part of the real bank’s name. Taking a closer look, the bank, the return mailing address from which the check and directions came from, and the actual company were all three different states. (Another red flag!) Okay, this is really looking like a scam…so I head over to the mystery shopper website to read up on company policies, as I am scrolling down on front page, is a red flag about a scammer alert saying they don’t have an employee by the name ” “. Also, in their alert, is says how to fill a claim. Even before, I am able to fill a complain a second envelope comes with more money and same response. No, I didn’t deposit the money so I’m not out any money. I also, checked out reviews on a mystery shopper forum…that confirmed my suspensions also, that 1.) you are paid after the shopping is done. 2.) the price to shop is never that high of an amount. ($360.00 per store visit). People need to keep alert, even on trusted websites.

    1. Have you alerted Inbox Dollars to this? I’m sure they don’t want some scammer taking advantage of their system!

  5. Christy Peeples DuBois

    Oh it makes me so mad at times as I’m deleting these scam emails. On the daily I get the prince/royalty wanting to send me money and/or the long long relative in another country. I also get the PayPal scam and as you said there is almost always misspelled words/word and grammatical errors and almost always when I look at their email address I know they aren’t PayPal.
    I also get daily a Microsoft/Outlook scam saying my hotmail.com email account will be deleted within 24/48 hours unless I update/verify/etc through their link of course and enter my password etc. another I get often is from fedex/dhl/delivery service for my package and a link to see the information about my package. I’ve read that these are often s phishing scam to where if I click their link an invoice or tracking information will appear and as I’m reading it the scammer will be looking through all of my data trying to find passwords, ssn, personal information. As with the others their is almost always errors in their email and when I look at their email address it isn’t from whom they say they are. Sometimes the Microsoft emails look legit and I will call or email support and find out it wasn’t from them.
    These are the ones I get the most of. Thanks for this useful post. It helps me mentally to know I’m not the only one getting these daily,although I hate that you and others receive such garbage.

    1. Christy Peeples DuBois

      Oh I got the IRS phone call scam once and I blocked that number. I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that come to mind.

    2. The scams are so sad. I get angry as I read them too because I know that someone is falling for these and getting taken advantage of!

  6. Silviu

    Hi Michelle,

    Once I saw a used car on internet with a very good price. I contacted the seller and when I asked details I received an e-mail from a lady who said that the car belonged to her husband who just died, she is somewhere outside the country, but her nephew will come and bring me the car. The only thing that I needed to do was to go to Western Union or MoneyGram and send her a photo from the document used to transfer the money. She wanted this like a warranty that I had the money to buy the car.

    I didn’t do it, but the trick is that even with a picture of the actual document someone could take the money.

    Anyway, as you said: “If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

    Another scam:
    Someone posted on internet that it will donate some lovely puppies. When you say that you want one puppy, she says that she had to leave the country but a specialized company will deliver the dog. Then this company asks for a delivery fee of 100$.

    The scammers, usually invent stories to make you feel sorry about them and when you contact them they say that something happened and they have to change the rules of the game.

    1. Yeah, the invented stories are so ridiculous most of the time!

  7. Josh

    E-mail scams are what I normally receive. I recently received an e-mail from LinkedIn similar to the PayPal scams. It was legit, but I didn’t know for certain until I headed directly to LinkedIn. They said my account was locked and I had them send a second e-mail just to be sure.

  8. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I hate this stuff! Some of these scams are actually REALLY convincing and it can be difficult to tell what’s real. When in doubt, just don’t take the bait! I was dealing with a guy for my blog a while back and the exchange seemed normal until they wanted my Paypal ID. Ha, I don’t think so, pal.

  9. Lindsey

    I have only fallen for one scam before. I found a really cute purse on pinterest. So I clicked through the link and tried to purchase it. After “purchasing” the purse, I was then contacted by email and asked to wire over money because the transaction could not go through. I immediately called my credit card company and learned my lesson after that.

    The site looked legit and everything!! You have to be really careful about even the pins on pinterest!

  10. I hate that Craigslist email. I had a friend nearly fall for one when she was looking for a place to stay. If she never contacted me, she would have sent the scammer a couple hundred dollars for a deposit.

    1. Ugh I hate the Craigslist email too!

  11. I’ve fallen for a scam before. The website claimed that I had a virus on my computer. Being so young, I didn’t know anything about computers and paid the $100 fee to get it removed (that I used my parent’s card for). I’m just glad that money was the only thing they took, no identity theft was reported for our part.

  12. Amanda-LivingFullyandFree

    These are so scary to be honest. I read an article where they busted a group posing as the IRS and calling asking for payment over the phone. I think it was in India or Indonesia, or somewhere far away from the US. There is also an apartment complex here (I’m sure there’s tons) where someone created a fake website for them to arrange a “tour” but they charge you like $50 or something to see the apartment. Once you arrive you’re told to get a key from the security guard and the guard tells you that was a scam and sorry you’re out of luck. Scary scary stuff

  13. David @ Thinking Thrifty

    We’re being bombarded by them here in the UK too. The Apple iTunes scam is doing the rounds again, sending out fake invoices to trick you into logging into a fake, copied website in order to gain access to your real account with all your card details. The other popular one is free supermarket vouchers and plane tickets! the amount of messages I’ve had from friends who’ve been duped and are trying to get me hooked in to is unreal!

    1. The free supermarket voucher is always floating around on my Facebook feed. Lots of people fall for that one!

  14. Michael

    I have received a lot of calls from so called “IRS”. It is usually a threat – angry voice, broken English, threat to arrest etc. I was a little nervous the first time I got the call. Regardless, I always ask questions – what is your full name? What is your phone number or extension I can reach you at? What is your IRS ID number? When I asked these questions, the scammer got even more angry and hung up.

    Then I called the IRS 800 number to check if there were any issues and they said I was clear and there were no issues. From my recollection, IRS told me that they does not call people prior to sending out a formal letter.

    This confirmed that the call I had received was an attempt to scam. I continued to receive calls from IRS scammers. It became free entertainment for me and I started annoying them by being defiant. Soon the calls disappeared.

  15. It makes me sick that people are out there scamming people this way, and sad that people are falling for it. I have gotten several emails with many of the scams you listed. I have heard of the IRS scam, but not in association with iTunes.

    1. Oh, and I had never even heard of the craig list rental scam. That is terrible. I have heard of people being scammed when it comes to vacation rentals, but not home rentals.

      1. The Craigslist rental scams are some of the worst. We came across SO MANY after we sold our house and were looking for a rental. I don’t think we’ll ever rent again and one of the reasons is because of all the scams.

  16. I get at least 3 calls a day from scammers, it is so annoying! All of the scams you mentioned are so ridiculous and far fetched, I am surprised people still fall for them! Wouldn’t it be nice if there was no such thing a phone and internet scams?

  17. John

    I use an app on my smartphone called Extreme Call Blocker. I set it up so calls from outside my area code get blocked, unless they are in my contact list, then they are answered. If there is a scam call from within my area code, I add it to the app’s blacklist after receiving it and it will be forever blocked.

  18. Scams are everywhere,hey this is alarming! We should be wise not all are real!