Protecting Yourself from Common Scams & Phishing Schemes
You’ve heard all the stories. Someone gets an email “Your account will be deactivated unless you go here and re-enter your username and password.” The person complies, only to later have account emptied of its funds.
These stories are frightening, but you shouldn’t panic. The more you keep your cool, the less you’re likely to fall for a scam. You can call the credit union any time you get a suspicious email or phone call. Be sure to watch out for other family members, also. The elderly are often targets for identity theft. Do what you can to make sure older family members are aware that these scams exist and to call the credit union directly with questions or problems.
Fraud Prevention Tips
Identity theft is usually more low-tech than you expect. Many identity thieves simply sift through garbage cans and dive into dumpsters. With that in mind, you should shred any old documents that contain account numbers, names, social security numbers, etc., before you throw them out.
Other identity thieves pay low-wage workers to collect credit card information. When shopping or dining out, try not to let your credit card out of your site. You never know who might see it and copy down the numbers.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”. Say you respond to an ad in the paper for an apartment or used car, and the seller immediately asks for private financial information. Just say no. It could be that the seller is getting lots of calls and hoping to weed out those who aren’t seriously interested. Or it could be an identity thief. If the seller isn’t willing to continue the conversation unless you reveal private financial information, you’re better off going elsewhere.
Your identity and your credit rating are as important as your actual money, and all should be guarded equally. It’s not wise to carry a thousand-dollar bill around, but a Social Security card is worth just as much on some markets. Both are better off at home and out of your wallet, under most circumstances.
If You Suspect Fraud…
If you think your identity has been stolen, here’s what to do:
- Contact the fraud department of any one of the three major credit bureaus (listed below) to place a fraud alert on your credit file. The fraud alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will be automatically notified to place fraud alerts.
- Close any account that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to your creditors and others that may require proof of the crime.
- File a complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps the FTC learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that they can better assist you.
Never give out private financial information over the phone unless you initiate the phone call. If the caller threatens to cancel your card or freeze your account, it’s a sure tip-off to a scam. Offer to call them back with this information, and ask for a phone number. Then report this incident to your credit union or the phone number on the back of your credit card, and give them the fraudulent phone number. They’ll also help you close this account and issue a new credit card.
Some common phone scams are described below:
While fake emails threatening to block your account access have been circulating for several years now, they’re now appearing on text messages as well.
Just as email scams can fake their return address, fake text messages can fake their incoming phone number. Quite often, these “emergency alert” phone calls and text messages arrive late at night when your credit union is closed and you’re too tired to react with a clear head. Don’t let them scare you into reacting before you’ve had a chance to think things through!
Credit card thieves frequently bribe waiters and store clerks to copy the front of the credit cards processed at their store. To combat this form of theft, credit card companies now put a three-digit code on the BACK of the credit card. You cannot make a credit card purchase online or over the phone without also knowing this three-digit code.
To get around this obstacle, credit card thieves have added an extra step to their scam. Armed with the name from the front of your credit card, they simply need a phone book to find your phone number and home address. They then call your home.
In an official-sounding voice they repeat your name, card number and home address. Then they ask you to “verify” this information by giving them the three-digit code on the back of your credit card.
Check your credit report on a regular basis. We suggest getting a free credit report every 4-months. For example, view your Equifax report at the end of April, your Experian report at the end of August and TransUnion at the end of December. To get your free credit report, click here!