Financial Health
April 22, 2024

Scam-spotters share red flags

How good are you at spotting fakes? Scams can be difficult to detect, but here are some clues to watch for that can help you avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

An illustration of 3 people engaging with various electronic devices. A large laptop and several warning signs are at the center.
Financial Health
April 22, 2024

Scam-spotters share red flags

How good are you at spotting fakes? Scams can be difficult to detect, but here are some clues to watch for that can help you avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

Key takeaways

  • Beware of scammers who claim to be a loved one in danger
  • Don’t fall for pressure to act immediately
  • Be on alert for requests for payments in advance of services or funds
  • Verify “bank employees” who demand you wire money to them
  • Rebuff new sweethearts who ask for cash

Our branch bankers have unique insight into the latest ways scammers are targeting customers, including older adults.

Here are five red flags to watch for that may help you avoid becoming a victim of a scam.

1. Unexpected contact

Someone contacts you out of the blue claiming to be a loved one in danger. Look out for scare tactics, insistence on wiring money, and being asked to keep the transaction secret.

At a Washington state branch, a customer frantically requested an $8,000 wire transfer to help her son, who she believed was on a last-minute trip to Florida and ended up in jail. Spotting the warning signs for impostor scams, the teller alerted the branch manager.

More red flags popped up as the manager reviewed the wire transfer details, including the beneficiary being an individual rather than a courthouse or bail bonds agency. She suggested the customer contact her son directly to verify the wire. The customer was hesitant and revealed that her “son” asked her not to tell anyone about his situation.

The manager then contacted Wells Fargo’s Transaction Fraud Support to research the wire transfer beneficiary, who turned out to be in Texas, not Florida. The customer finally reached her son, who verified that the person who contacted her was a scammer.

2. Everything is urgent

Someone is rude or pressures you with pushy language. Look out for demands that you act immediately.

An older customer came to a branch in Pennsylvania accompanied by a young woman he introduced as his significant other, asking the banker about initiating recurring transfers from his account to the woman’s account.

Because the woman was doing most of the talking, the banker respectfully told her she needed to confirm specifics about the account with the gentleman, not her, since she was not listed as a joint owner. More red flags continued to pop up throughout the interaction, including the man having an out-of-state driver’s license, hesitancy to answer questions, and demands from the woman to have recurring transfers of large sums from his account into her bank account every week.

When the banker said she was unable to fulfill the transfer request, the woman asked her instead to take money out of his IRA brokerage account and deposit it to her personal account. With the pressure and acting as if everything was urgent with no reason, the banker knew something was not right. She engaged her partners at the bank to assess the situation and help protect the customer.

3. Upfront payment required

Someone asks you for gift cards, cryptocurrency, or money sent through a payment app or wire to pay for something, to receive “sweepstakes money,” or to secure a high return on your “investment.” Look out for unusual or unreasonable advance payment requests.

A customer came into a Florida branch to make a $10,000 cash withdrawal. The branch manager noticed the customer had already withdrawn $9,640 from her checking account and $10,000 from her savings account earlier that day at another branch. As the manager asked the customer why she wanted to withdraw that much money in cash, she noticed someone was listening to them on the customer’s cell phone. She explained out loud that due to the unusual activity on the account that morning, the customer would have to wait five days to make an additional withdrawal per the account policy.

After further conversation with the customer, it was discovered that the person on the phone claimed to be a “government official” who was using threats to get her to send him the cash. The manager explained to the customer that she was being scammed and asked her where the $19,640 was. The customer revealed a shoebox full of cash, and the manager helped the customer deposit the money back into her account.

4. Impersonating bank employees

Someone offers to help you to get money back that you didn’t know was missing. Look out for out-of-the-blue contact, instructions on what to do and say, and insistence on wiring money.

As a banker was meeting with a customer in his Pennsylvania branch, he sensed a scam in progress. The customer was adamant about wiring $29,000 even though the banker explained that the details associated with the wire request sounded fraudulent. He alerted his associates, and the branch team decided not to approve the wire.

Later, the customer shared he had received an email from the bank stating his account was being charged and if this was a mistake to call them, which he did. The person he called told him that someone got a hold of his bank account information and that they would help him. The customer relayed that the scammers calmly and patiently spent more than three hours on the phone with him. They also coached him on what to say at the bank. The customer was so thankful to the branch team for protecting his funds and pointing out how to spot scam email.

Learn more about bank imposter scams.

5. Romantic “emergency”

A new online love interest bombards you with “sweet talk” but doesn’t seem to want to meet in person. Suddenly a hardship or emergency strikes, and they ask you to send them money right away. Look out for pressure to act immediately and being asked to provide your financial information.


When a customer shared that she had to send funds to her fiancé who kept calling and asking for money, an Arizona branch manager determined that the customer had been involved in romance scams for months and had shared her account information, card numbers, and passwords. She had already given a large amount of money to a “film director in South Africa,” an “oil rig financier,” and an “bitcoin investor” — all in the guise of being her “fiancé.”

As the customer was talking, the manager noticed the “fiancé” was persistently calling the customer’s cell phone, asking for the money. She reported a fraud in progress and on-site, and the police were called to the branch to help the customer.

“We reset the customer’s passwords and alerted her of the red flags of sweetheart scams,” said the branch manager.

What to do if you think you’ve been scammed

  • Slow down and take a breath. If someone pressures you, confirm that the urgency is necessary.
  • Think it through. Does the request make sense? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Consult with a friend or family member you trust, even if the scammer tells you not to.
  • Go directly to the company or bank the scammer claims to be from. Wells Fargo will never text, email, or call you asking for personal or account information.
  • Call the police or report fraud.

Stay alert

Using account alerts in the Wells Fargo Mobile® app is a great way to help keep an eye on your accounts so you can contact us quickly if you see anything suspicious.

Read more