Bank scams are nothing new, but they are growing. According to the American Bankers Association, deposit account fraud losses topped $25 billion in 2018 – and that figure is likely still growing. The dizzying variety of scams is ever-evolving, too, so it’s important to periodically refresh your understanding of the most common banking scams, and how to avoid them.
Here are some popular financial fraud tactics.
Phishing is nothing new, but the tactics scammers use to extract sensitive personal and banking information are. The classic phishing scam involves impersonators sending legitimate-looking texts or emails (or using legitimate-looking websites) to obtain your confidential banking information or passwords, ID or Social Security numbers, address, or other identifying personal information. In recent years, phishing scams have become more elaborate, involving emails that look almost identical to those from your bank, or websites that purport to help you in some way. And in the time of Covid, some offer help with obtaining stimulus funds or loans.
Fake check scams
Check scams come in a few varieties. A common scam involves receiving an unexpected check. When you cash it, you inadvertently make purchases or sign up for a loan. Another involves sending you a counterfeit check, which you’re asked to deposit and wire part of the money back to the scammer. You’re then on the hook for the entire amount of the counterfeit check. Be particularly aware of fake Covid stimulus checks, or people claiming to be assisting you with obtaining, cashing, or managing stimulus money.
Unauthorized or automatic withdrawals
Be careful authorizing one-time automatic withdrawals, as these can inadvertently become regular withdrawals from your accounts. Read the fine print on any automatic withdrawal authorizations to ensure they won’t become ongoing, or that you can cancel them at any time. Additionally, apply all of your common-sense money safety discipline to withdrawal or deposit authorizations, as the information you provide for automatic deposits can also be used by scammers to withdraw funds without your consent. Verify any and all deposit or withdrawal agreements in detail, and ensure the people or institutions you’re dealing with are those you know firsthand.
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Financial advisor or personal banker scams
Many scammers pose as credit counselors, financial advisors, or bankers purporting to need your personal or financial information to help you. Before trusting any unsolicited offers, do your homework. Contact your bank or brokerage to verify the legitimacy of any offer, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if you don’t recognize the entity that’s contacting you.
How to protect yourself
Though the methods of scammers evolve, the basic premise remains the same: Scammers are trying to steal your personal information.
- Be alert to any instances of being asked to relay personal information by phone, email, or text – especially if it’s unsolicited. Verify that emails or phone calls are legitimate by contacting your bank directly. Don’t accept calls from unknown or unfamiliar numbers. If in doubt, contact the CFPB to report or inquire regarding possible scams.
- Use a secure WiFi connection whenever you’re making online purchases, engaging in online banking or financial transactions, or relaying financial information. Don’t use public or shared WiFi, which can make you vulnerable to scammers.
- Review your account statements and credit reports regularly to spot unauthorized or suspicious transactions. Document and report these immediately.
- Opt for two-factor authentication whenever possible, such as face or biometric ID, plus a password, to maximize your account protection.
- If in doubt, wait, verify, and do not respond to any unsolicited offers, emails, or calls, until you are 100% certain of their authenticity and trustworthiness.
- The era of Covid adds an extra layer of vulnerability, creating new opportunities for scammers to prey on those who are receiving government loans of benefits, or those who find themselves in precarious financial circumstances. Stay alert, aware, and in charge of your financial privacy.
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