The modern tech-savvy thief is one of the greatest threats to your financial security. While a traditional burglar smashes a window or picks a lock, this predator can invade your home via your phone, mail, email, and the internet.
Under the guise of an authority figure, these criminals can frighten you into giving them information you would normally never knowingly give a stranger. These scams are particularly dangerous because they can be hard to identify. So the question is: how do you tell what is, and what is not, a scam?
Ten Most Dangerous Financial Scams
The FDIC Consumer News recently warned bank customers by posting their list of ten dangerous financial scams. Here they are:
#1: Government “imposter” frauds
These schemes often start with a phone call, a letter, an email, a text message, or a fax supposedly from a government agency. The sender will claim to be with a federal government agency, telling you that you owe taxes or another unpaid debt. They may even threaten you with a lawsuit or an arrest if you don’t pay. To rectify the situation, they’ll ask you for an upfront payment or for personal financial information like your Social Security or bank account numbers. Remember, government agencies will never contact you through phone or demand payment by phone; official government communication comes through the mail.
What U Should Do: Hang up the phone. Divulge no personal information.
#2: Debt collection scams
Another trick scammers will use is posing as a debt collector. They’ll contact you about collecting a debt that you don’t actually owe. If the caller won’t provide written proof of the debt you allegedly owe, they’re probably looking to take advantage of you.
In a legitimate situation in which you owe money, official documentation will exist.
What U Should Do: Hang up the phone. Divulge no personal information.
#3: Fraudulent job offers
Some criminals will pose online or in classified advertisements as employers or recruiters, offering a job that’s just too good to be true but too enticing to ignore.
These scams often require an upfront payment to begin your dream career—or insist on access to sensitive personal information.
BONUS: The Mystery Shopper Job Offer Scam
Another variation of this scam involves fake offers of part-time jobs as “mystery shoppers,” who are people paid to visit retail locations and then submit confidential reports about the experience. The scammer will instruct you to deposit a check to fund your undercover shopping. You would then be instructed to immediately wire your new “employer” $500 out of your bank account to cover the check you just deposited. Oftentimes, the outcome is that the check you deposited is counterfeit and you just lost $500.
What U Should Do: If a job requires you to pay for materials upfront or make some other monetary investment, it’s likely a workplace to avoid.
#4: “Phishing” emails
Scam artists send emails pretending to be from banks, popular merchants, or other known entities. They ask the victim for personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and other valuable details.
These dangerous emails usually look legitimate because they include graphics copied from authentic websites and messages that appear valid. When you comply with a request, you’re in big trouble.
What U Should Do: Financial institutions do not ask for personal information via email. Even if it looks official, never click on a link or download a file from a suspicious sender.
#5: Mortgage foreclosure rescue scams
Because they are desperate, homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes are a prime target for scams. Borrowers should always be on the lookout for anyone offering a solution that sounds too good to be true.
These criminals will present homeowners with what sounds like the life-saving offer they need. To access it, the homeowner is required to pay significant upfront fees. Even more sinister variations include victims being tricked into signing documents that, in the fine print, transfer the ownership of the property to the criminal.
Common warning signs of fraudulent mortgage assistance offers include iron-clad “guarantees” and high-pressure sales tactics.
What U Should Do: Be wary of unsolicited ‘help’ from unknown mortgage companies. Always seek out the advice from professionals you trust before signing financial documents.
#6: Lottery scams
A thief pulling a lottery scam will contact you with the news you’ve won a lottery, usually one you never even entered. The catch: you’ll be able to collect your winnings if you first send money to the “lottery company” to cover taxes and fees.
There are similar scams that involve fake prize winnings and sweepstakes. People will often fall for this scam because the idea of winning something overrides their sense of caution.
What U Should Do: Never send money to an unknown party based on promises of winnings or payments. Official lotteries will never require upfront taxes and fees; legitimate taxes on winnings are paid to the government on your annual tax return.
#7: Elder frauds
Senior citizens are prime targets for scammers. Scammers pretend to sell fantastic services or products that will never be delivered. These unsolicited callers promise great products and limited-time offers, but fail to deliver anything at all.
In another variation of this scam, the caller claims to be a relative who is in trouble and needs help – typically in the form of bail money.
What U Should Do: Avoid sharing financial information over the phone. If you do need to provide payment information to a caller, it’s wise to pay using a credit card as these offer extended fraud protection.
#8: Over-payment scams
This popular scam starts when a stranger sends a consumer or a business a check for something, such as an item being sold on the internet, but the check amount is far more than the agreed-upon sales price. The scammer then tells the consumer to deposit the check and wire the difference to someone else who is supposedly owed money by the same check writer.
In a few days, the check is discovered to be a counterfeit, and the depositor may be held responsible for any money wired out of the bank account. Victims may end up owing thousands of dollars to the financial institution that wired the money, and sometimes they’ve also sent the merchandise to the fraud artists, too.
What U Should Do: Never send a wire transfer to an unknown party.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software, or malware, that freezes your computer or mobile device. This dangerous software renders your device unusable, and only a unique software key will unlock it. In order to obtain this key to regain access to your device, you need to pay a literal ransom – hence the name.
To protect yourself from ransomware, avoid opening email attachments from unknown sources, clicking on pop-up windows, or downloading software from questionable sources. Check out Ransomware: What You Need To Know for more information.
What U Should Do: Install an anti-virus software on your computers and mobile devices – and keep it updated.
#10: Jury duty scams
A jury duty scam is a simple but effective con. The thief will call you pretending to be a law enforcement official telling you that you failed to appear for jury duty. They’ll threaten to arrest you unless you pay a fine immediately. You can pay your debt, they’ll say, by providing them with your debit account and PIN numbers.
Once the criminal has that information, they can use it to drain your account.
What U Should Do: Do not divulge payment information. Instead, ask them for their name and phone number; then call your local police station to confirm the call’s legitimacy.
Keeping U Safe
Protecting your finances from scammers requires vigilance. Although these are the most common tricks, new scams are invented each day. If you’re unsure if you’re the target of a scam, contact your local Union Trusted Advisor before giving out sensitive banking information to questionable sources. We’re here to help.