Don’t fall for these 10 sneaky banking scams

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According to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission, consumers lost $10 billion to fraud in 2023. And if you think it can’t happen to you, you’re making yourself more vulnerable to scammers.

Banking scams can be hard to spot, especially with the growing trend of online banking. But you can protect yourself with a little knowledge and a few precautions. Read on to learn how to spot common bank scams and protect your money.

10 Common Banking Scams

Check-Cashing Scams

You receive a check with a request to deposit it and return a portion of the money to the sender. The check may clear, but by the time your bank realizes it’s fake, you’ve sent real money from your bank account to the scammer. If a potential “employer”, mystery shopping company or other source asks you to send money from a check you were given, tear up the check and ignore the request.

Check-washing scams

Criminals can steal envelopes containing checks from the mail, use chemicals to wash the checks and change the payee or dollar amount. To protect yourself from this scam, use checks with security features, never leave check fields blank, don’t let mail sit in your mailbox and write checks with black gel ink — it’s hard to wash off.

Phishing scams

In a phishing scam, you receive a text or email from a source that seems genuine — such as your bank or utility company — asking you to update your information. If you share your information, criminals can take over your account. Never click on a link in an unsolicited message. Call your bank’s official customer service line to confirm the request.

Automated Withdrawal Scams

You receive a surprise message or phone call saying you’ve won a prize. All you have to do is provide your bank account and routing number to receive the money. Once they have this, the scammer can start a recurring automatic withdrawal, causing you far more damage than the disappointment of realizing there is no prize.

You’ve probably heard this saying before, but it bears repeating: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Advance fee fraud

This scam asks you to pay a fee up front, promising you money or services in return. In some cases, these scams are easy to identify – such as the classic “Nigerian prince” scheme – but others are more sophisticated.

For example, if you’re struggling with debt, you may be offered help by a company that promises to get you back on track for a fee. Don’t let scammers take advantage of your distress. There are several legitimate ways to get out of credit card debt, including contacting reputable nonprofit debt counseling services.

Fake bank websites and apps

Scammers can easily create a fake website or app that looks like a real bank to trick you into providing personal information or sending money. Before clicking any links, verify that the URL is actually from your bank or credit union. The FDIC’s BankFind is an easy way to check. When installing a mobile banking app on your phone or tablet, make sure you’re downloading it directly from the Apple Store or Google Play Store.

Government impostor scandals

Government agencies like the IRS and Social Security Administration usually only contact you through physical mail. If you get a phone call or text message from someone claiming to be a government official, don’t respond or give them any information — even if the communication looks genuine at first glance. Scammers can easily spoof legitimate phone numbers.

Job Scams

Legitimate job postings won’t ask for your banking information or ask you to pay for products and services to get started. Before you apply for a job, check the company name with the Better Business Bureau to make sure you don’t fall into a trap.

Charity scams

Scammers want to take advantage of your kindness, especially when a disaster like an earthquake or hurricane strikes. Instead of responding to an unsolicited request for donations, do your own research to find a legitimate local organization and make sure your money will actually go to the cause.

If you’re not sure what cause you should donate to, contact a nationally recognized organization like the Red Cross or Feeding America.

Identity theft

Identity theft takes many forms, including fraudulent people making off with your debit card information, or using your Social Security number to open a bank account in your name. The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to regularly review your credit reports and account statements and contact your bank immediately if you notice anything suspicious. You can also sign up for an identity theft protection service for extra peace of mind.

How to Avoid Bank Account Scams

Although bank scams can be sneaky, you can take some simple steps to avoid them.

  • Recognize the red flags. Be wary of unsolicited communications, requests that create a false sense of urgency, and offers that seem too good to be true. If it sounds suspicious, it probably is suspicious.
  • Do not give out your personal information. Keep your personal information private, from your account numbers to your login credentials. This includes destroying any documents containing sensitive information before you leave.
  • Create a strong password. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters to create unique passwords. Avoid giving out identifying information like your house number or birthday. And don’t use the same password for multiple sites or apps. A password manager can help you keep track of your logins across different platforms.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication. While a scammer can crack your password, it is very difficult to copy your thumbprint or face. These biometrics are required for multi-factor authentication to access your bank account.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Don’t do your online or mobile banking over unsecured Wi-Fi networks – work from your secure home network.
  • Keep track of your bank statements and credit reports. Review your account’s transaction history regularly and check your credit report throughout the year to detect any suspicious activity.
  • Pull your ChexSystems report. If you’re concerned that someone has opened a bank account in your name, get a copy of your ChexSystems Disclosure Report and Consumer Score Report to check for any negative marks against your name.
  • Use an identity theft protection service. You’ll have to pay for the best identity theft protection and monitoring services, but it might be worth it if you can sleep better at night.

What to do if you have become a victim of a banking scam?

If you think you’re the victim of bank fraud, follow these tips to limit the damage.

  • Contact your bank. Contact your bank or credit union immediately to minimize your losses. In most cases, reporting promptly will help you minimize your potential liability. However, don’t stop at one account. Make a complete list of your other financial products, including your credit cards, to ensure these accounts are not at risk as well.
  • file a complaint. Contact the FTC to file a complaint and receive a recovery plan.
  • File a police report. While local police may not be able to do much if a fraudster thousands of miles away has your account number, a police report can prove that fraud occurred and that you tried to stop it. For example, if someone uses your personal or financial information to launder money, a report can help prove that you were not involved.
  • Change your password. Update passwords for all your financial accounts, and consider changing them for other services, like email and social media, too.
  • Set up fraud and security alerts. In addition to keeping a close eye on your credit report, consider setting up fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — as an added security measure. It’s also wise to set up security alerts with ChexSystems, which will automatically notify you of any attempts to open new accounts in your name.

Keep fraudsters away from your bank accounts

As long as you have money, some criminal will find a way to steal it. Thankfully, there are several ways to thwart their efforts. By taking a few precautions and practicing some healthy skepticism, you can keep your hard-earned money safe and out of the hands of fraudsters.

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