Ways to Avoid Scams in 2020

Start the new year with 4 tips from Capital One’s head of US credit card fraud Sarah Strauss


The 2010s were an incredible decade that brought us innovations like mainstream electric cars, home voice assistants, avocado toast and unicorn lattes—just to name a few. On the other hand, the decade was also great for digital fraudsters, who have become increasingly sophisticated in how they target and get information from their victims. 

The growing number of digital touchpoints in our lives means more ways to get scammed—and as we start 2020, scammers are as polished as ever. They know what to say and how to manipulate situations to make themselves seem legitimate.

Here are four tips to help protect your personal information and keep your 2020 scam-free! 

1. Use Gift Cards for Gifts, Not Payments

As far as I’m aware, no bank, government agency or legitimate debt collector will ask you to make payments using gift cards. If someone does, that’s a huge red flag. Look up the company or entity online and contact them directly to confirm. Generally, if anyone is asking you to purchase gift cards or use them for payments, you should view that as suspicious.

2. Be Vigilant on Social Media and Across the Web

Fraudsters use social media to target you for your personal information. Never share personal, banking or password information on these platforms. Even a fun quiz that creates your superhero name using your mother’s maiden name can be used to target your accounts! 

And don’t let bad merchants or fake merchandise get your 2020 off to a sad start. When you see product ads online, beware of low-quality or Photoshopped images. You can use a search engine to look up the company in the ad and see what other customers have to say. In general, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

3. Don’t Be Fooled by Fraudulent Offers

Fraudsters may also try to target you by offering an opportunity to make quick profits for relatively little work. They may promise to make payments to you if you add them as a user to an account, giving them control of it, or if you send them money or goods—usually electronics and gift cards. 

Don’t be fooled—any check you receive or pending payment from them you see in your account will likely bounce. And it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recover anything you already sent the fraudster.

4. Protect Your Accounts and Personal Information

There are a number of ways bad actors can target you and your accounts in an attempt to get your personal information. One way is phishing, and Capital One® has observed a rise in this over the past few years. Phishing is when a fraudster contacts you pretending to represent a trustworthy source, like your bank or other legal entity, and uses what they already know about you to build trust and get more information from you.

You should be vigilant against two types of phishing:

Phone Phishing

Phone phishing is when a fraudster calls directly and asks you to do something like provide personal information. 

For example, a fraudster may be trying to access your account, so your bank sends you a one-time PIN to ensure it’s you. The fraudster may call you and pretend to be your bank: The fraudster claims your account has been hacked and asks for that one-time PIN (or other documents) to verify it’s you. In reality, the fraudster plans to use the information to finish getting into your account!

Fraudsters are great at making this situation seem legitimate and pressuring you to act quickly. They may even send you a text message pretending to be your bank and telling you they will call you shortly! And, when they do call, sometimes they can spoof your bank’s phone number, so it looks real but is not.

Spotting the real vs. the fake is hard! In these situations, I recommend you hang up and call your bank directly (using the number online or on the back of your credit or debit card), to be sure you’re speaking to the real company about a real concern.

Email Phishing

Email phishing is when a fraudster sends an email message appearing to be from a legitimate entity. The email may have a link that asks you to provide or update personal information. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to check the sender’s email address to see if you have other messages from them. You can also hover over the link to see where it’s taking you. 

If the request seems suspicious or you don’t understand why you are getting it, the safest option is to call the company or sign in to your digital account to see if there are any security messages.

To sum things up, avoiding scams takes vigilance and a bit of caution. If you have any scam concerns regarding a Capital One account, please call us at the number on the back of your Capital One credit or debit card so we can help you resolve them. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2020 for you and your loved ones!


Sarah Strauss
Sarah Strauss, Head of US Credit Card Fraud

Sarah Strauss leads the U.S. Credit Card Fraud team at Capital One. Her team is responsible for the development of fraud defenses, fraud-related technology and associated customer experiences. Sarah has been with Capital One for eight years. Prior to her role in Fraud, she held various leadership roles within the U.S. Card business. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children.


We hope that you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.