Protecting Yourself from Scammers and Fraud
Scams tend to skyrocket when consumers are most vulnerable. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception. Protect yourself by studying con artists’ latest strategies—and what you can do to steer clear of danger.
If you receive an unexpected phone call, email or text message, carefully assess the situation before responding. Scammers pretend to represent financial institutions, government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies, charities and other legitimate organizations. Typically, they try to convince potential victims to share bank account or credit card details, social security numbers, passwords and other sensitive information.
In many cases, scammers claim that you’ll suffer dire consequences like fines or legal action if you don’t act immediately. Don’t take the bait. UW Credit Union and other legitimate financial institutions will never:
- Ask you for account information or passwords in a phone call, text message or email
- Contact you to request personal information we already have on file
- Call you and ask you to read us a security code
When you receive unsolicited communications, it’s wise to slow down, gather information and follow up later. If you choose to continue the conversation, go through the organization’s official customer service phone number, email address or chat tool.
Common types of scams
There are many varieties of scams and fraud. These four types tend to surface during financial crises and health and safety emergencies.
1. Employment scams
Some con artists post ads for appealing jobs, including work-from-home opportunities. They’ll often pretend to be a recruiter or hiring manager. After you’re told the job is yours, you’ll be asked to deposit an official-looking paycheck into your bank account, then wire a portion of the money to another person. A legitimate organization will never issue you a check and demand that you send money in return.
If you see an appealing employment listing, first make sure the company offering the job is legit. Trustworthy public resources such as the Better Business Bureau can help you determine if the company is what it claims to be. If it looks like a well-known organization is advertising the job, search its website for a similar job listing.
When you receive a job offer, get the details in writing, along with a contract. On-the-spot job offers, especially those that don’t involve interviews, are a red flag. So are job descriptions that promise big earnings in a short amount of time.
2. Impersonating government officials and charity workers
In addition to posing as job recruiters, scammers pretend to represent trustworthy organizations such as the county sheriff’s office, the IRS and even charities. Treat every unsolicited call with an abundance of caution. Also keep in mind that government agencies will never ask you to wire money, purchase gift cards or share passwords.
Even if the person calling you demands immediate action, you don’t have to respond right away. Hang up and call the headquarters of the organization that supposedly contacted you. If possible, share details about who called and what this person wanted you to do. To verify the identity of a charity, consult resources such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and GuideStar.
3. Posing as debt collectors
Medical bills and unemployment can quickly lead to new debts. To take advantage of this situation, some scammers pose as debt collectors. They’ll typically pressure you to send money for a debt you don’t owe or a debt you’ve already paid.
If someone contacts you and demands a debt payment, don’t provide your personal information right away. Verify that debt in question is real, that it belongs to you and that it hasn’t been paid. Then make sure the collection agency is legit. Ask the caller for their name, employer, street address, and debt collector license number. Research the agency online. Also call the agency to confirm that the debt collector who contacted you works there. If the caller won’t provide written proof of the debt you allegedly owe or uses threatening language, you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
Phishing experts grab your attention with emails or texts that look like they’re from banks, merchants or someone you know. These communications encourage you to share bank account or credit card numbers, login credentials or other personal information such as your Social Security number.
When you receive an unsolicited message, resist the urge to click links or open attachments. Be aware that the names of fraudulent websites may be similar to the names of legitimate ones. Do an online search to verify the website or phone number shared in the message. Also contact the organization that supposedly sent the message to confirm that it’s not a scam.
New scams surface regularly, so make a habit of learning about them. Start by reviewing our fraud protection web page, financial scam list and guide to finding financial stability in uncertain times. The Federal Trade Commission’s scam summaries are another reliable resource. Consider signing up for the commission’s consumer alert emails, which provide details about new threats such as these:
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During a pandemic, banking online is a safe, smart choice. If you’re a UW Credit Union member, you can do these things and more from a smartphone, tablet or computer:
- See account balances and history
- Transfer money
- Deposit checks
- Make loan and bill payments
- Send and receive messages
- Monitor your credit score