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5 election scams to avoid

Oct. 5, 2020

Scammers try to take advantage of everything. It’s no surprise some are trying to use the upcoming presidential election as a way to steal your personal information or push you to send them money that you think you’re donating to your favorite candidates.

Election and voting scams do exist. And if you’re not careful, you could find your identity stolen and fraudulent charges being run up on your accounts. The good news? Voting scams are relatively rare. And you can help avoid them by being cautious.

Here’s a brief look at some of the more common voting scams out there, and our advice for outwitting the scammers behind them.

Election scam No. 1: Fake polls

Ever gotten a call from the campaign of a presidential or state candidate? That's not unusual. Candidates running for office often use phone polls or surveys to gauge their popularity or the way voters feel about key issues. But scammers create their own fake polls or surveys, too, with a different goal: They want to steal your personally identifiable information.

You might get a call from someone claiming to be on the staff of a presidential or local candidate. This person might even ask you what seem like legitimate questions about your support of the candidate and your views on important issues.

The scam starts when these callers ask for your full name, address, Social Security number, or birthdate. Once they get this information, these scammers can use it to open bank accounts in your name, take out loans with your information, or apply for credit cards in your name.

You can protect yourself from this scam by being cautious. Never give out your personal information, especially your name, birthdate, home and email addresses, or Social Security number. Legitimate pollsters won't ask for this information.

Be leery, too, if the caller offers to pay you or give you a prize for participating in the survey. Legitimate surveys don't offer cash or prizes to participants.

Election scam No. 2: Fake political sites

Scammers create fake political websites, too, with the same goal of stealing your information. And today when more people are signing up to vote by mail, it pays to watch out for fake voter registration or mail-in ballot sites.

You might log onto a website promising to send you a mail-in ballot. But when you supply your personal information — such as your full name and address — that information instead goes to a cybercriminal who will use it to apply for credit cards in your name or who will sell the information the dark web.

You might log into what seems like a site being run by the campaign of your favored political candidate. But when you enter your credit card details to make a donation, you are instead providing key financial information to a con artist. This scammer can then use that information to make purchases with your credit card.

The key to avoiding this scam is again about being cautious. No political or voting site should ask for your Social Security number. If one does, click off it. Before making a donation through a candidate’s website, check its URL to make sure it’s the candidate’s legitimate site. If you have any concerns, call the campaign directly to make your donation. Your best move is to never share your credit card or bank account information on any site you are not familiar with.

If you want information about how to vote by mail this year, only visit trusted sites such as USA.gov or the Can I Vote page of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

Election scam No. 3: The text-your-vote scam

We all want voting to be as easy as possible, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But texting your vote? That's a little too easy. It's also not possible.

Back in the 2016 presidential election, scammers created messages on social media sites encouraging supporters of Hillary Clinton to text their votes. All voters had to do, according to the messages, was text "Hillary" to 59925.

Of course, this was a scam. If voters sent that text, nothing would happen. Their vote certainly wouldn't be registered. They would, in fact, be wasting their vote.

The goal of scams like this? To encourage citizens to throw away their votes. Ignore any messages encouraging you to vote by text. Yes, you can vote by mail. But you can never cast your vote with your phone.

Election scam No. 4: Phone scams

Scammers don't limit themselves to websites, social media, and e-mails when they're trying to steal the money or personal information of voters. They often turn to the old-fashioned phone call, too. 

You might get a call from a strange number. When you pick it up, you'll hear a recording promoting a presidential or local candidate. The call might seem legit. It might even feature a recording of the candidate's voice. But then the call will ask you to donate to the candidate's campaign. If you answer that you are willing to donate, you'll be switched to a live caller.

The person on the other end will ask for your credit card number. Or maybe the caller will ask you to give a donation by using the code on a gift card. The caller might ask you to make a transfer through PayPal or some other peer-to-peer payment site.

The problem? The call isn't coming from a candidate's office. Instead, it's a scammer hoping to swindle you out of your credit card information or gain access to your gift card balances.

The Better Business Bureau recommends that you never answer calls coming from a number you don't recognize. If you do get an unsolicited robocall, hang up without interacting with the person or recording on the other end. And if the call asks you to "Press 1" or some other number on your phone to be removed from its list? Don't do it. Pressing any button confirms to the scammers that your number is a good one.

Election scam No. 5: Voter registration scams

If you aren’t registered to vote yet, it’s time to get busy. Registering to vote is the only way to make sure that you are allowed to cast your ballot on November 3, 2020.

Be careful, though, of voter registration scams. In these scams, you’ll receive a call, text or email from an organization claiming it can help you register to vote. You’ll just have to provide some personal information first, such as your name, address, birthdate, and Social Security number.

You guessed it: The organization is fake, and once you provide your personal information, a scammer can use it to steal your identity. Scammers might even sell this information on the dark web for a profit.

Again, the key to avoiding this scam is to be cautious. No one will call you, send you an email or text you to sign you up to vote. If you want to vote, visit the Can I Vote page of the National Association of Secretaries of State. This page will tell you if you are registered to vote. It will also tell you how to register in your state if you are not already.

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