What You Can Do: Plus the basics on how to protect your personal information and your money
While there are many forms of financial scams – Check out these 10 scams targeting bank customers – the red flags to look out for are often similar. And so are the things you can do to help protect yourself and your money. Here are some basic precautions to consider, especially when engaging in financial transactions with strangers through email, over the phone or on the internet.
- Avoid offers that seem “too good to be true.” As Eberley noted: “If someone promises ‘opportunities’ that are free or with surprisingly low costs or high returns, it is probably a scam. Be especially suspicious if someone pressures you into making a quick decision or to keep a transaction a secret.”
- No matter how legitimate an offer or request may look or sound, don’t give your personal information, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers and passwords, to anyone unless you initiate the contact and know the other party is reputable.
- Remember that financial institutions will not send you an email or call to ask you to put account numbers, passwords or other sensitive information in your response because they already have this information. To verify the authenticity of an email, independently contact the supposed source by using an email address or telephone number that you know is valid.
- Be cautious of unsolicited emails or text messages asking you to open an attachment or click on a link. This is a common way for cybercriminals to distribute malicious software, such as ransomware. Be especially cautious of emails that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
- Use reputable anti-virus software that periodically runs on your computer to search for and remove malicious software. Be careful if anyone (even a friend) gives you a thumb drive because it could have undetected malware, such as ransomware, on it. If you still want to use a thumb drive from someone else, use the anti-virus software on your computer to scan the files before opening them.
- Don’t cash or deposit any checks, cashier’s checks or money orders from strangers who ask you to wire any of that money back to them or an associate. If the check or money order proves to be a fake, the money you wired out of your account will be difficult to recover.
- Be wary of unsolicited offers “guaranteeing” to rescue your home from foreclosure. If you need assistance, contact your loan servicer (the company that collects the monthly payment for your mortgage) to find out if you may qualify for any programs to prevent foreclosure or to modify your loan without having to pay a fee. Also consider consulting with a trained professional at a reputable counseling agency that provides free or low-cost help. Go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website for a referral to a nearby housing counseling agency approved by HUD or call 1-800-569-4287.
- Monitor credit card bills and bank statements for unauthorized purchases, withdrawals or anything else suspicious, and report them to your bank right away.
- Periodically review your credit reports for signs of identity theft, such as someone obtaining a credit card or a loan in your name. By law, you are entitled to receive at least one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nation’s three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Start at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. If you spot a potential problem, call the fraud department at the credit bureau that produced that credit report. If the account turns out to be fraudulent, ask for a “fraud alert” to be placed in your file at all three of the major credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports that you have been a victim of fraud and that they should verify any new accounts or changes to accounts in your name.
- Contact the FDIC’s Consumer Response Center (CRC) if you have questions about possible scams or you are the victim of a scam experiencing difficulty resolving the issue with a financial institution. The CRC answers inquiries about consumer protection laws and regulations and conducts thorough investigations of complaints about FDIC-supervised institutions. If the situation involves a financial institution for which the FDIC is not the primary federal regulator, CRC staff will refer the matter to the appropriate regulator. Visit our webpage on submitting complaints or call 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342) Monday – Friday, 8am to 8pm (EST).
To learn more about how to avoid financial scams, search by topic in back issues of FDIC Consumer News and the FDIC’s multimedia presentation Don’t Be an Online Victim. Also find tips from the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.