Scams Are Evolving Daily - These 7 Tips Will Help You Protect Your Money And Identity

  • April 19, 2024
  • By Rebecca Pohlman

Each year, as technology advances, scammers evolve their operations and scams become more elaborate. According to the FTC, individuals reported losing over $10 billion to fraud in 2023, an increase of more than $1 billon compared to 2022. These seven important tips can help you spot the red flags of common scams we see right here on the Central Coast. 

Tip #1: If your information has been compromised in a data breach – be proactive!

Unfortunately, we live in a time where our sensitive information is compromised by data breaches, so it’s easy to become complacent and not take important steps to protect your sensitive information. If your information has been compromised in a data breach, you should immediately update your username and password for that account. This is especially important if the breach is from a utility company (including cell phone and cable providers), or is finance or medical related, as all of these businesses have your sensitive and non-public information such as social security numbers, date of birth, and unique challenge or security question answers. This information is often used to access other online portals, so if you use the same username or passwords for other accounts – make sure you update those, as well.

If your social security number is breached, be sure to set fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) or through other identity theft protection services. If you are not actively applying for credit, consider freezing your credit report with each bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). You can do so for free at their websites and it’s easy to unfreeze your reports when you need to. While it’s easy to be callous to multiple data breaches, it can be a costly mistake.

Tip #2: Watch carefully for alerts – and treat them seriously

Many online access portals now require Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which are prompts that require you to verify your identity through other means – like an email code, a text link, or a call. If you get a Multi-Factor Authentication alert, and you did not attempt to access the respective account, you should immediately change your username and/or password. Don’t assume it’s a family member you might share an account with. Same goes for the alerts that notify you about a login or login attempt from a new device.

If you believe that someone has accessed your online accounts, check to make sure all of your contact information is still accurate, many scammers will update your phone numbers and email addresses so they can pass the MFA you’ve set up for that account.

Phishing scams are still very prevalent, so make sure you do not click any links on the alert or notice without first verifying that it is legitimate. No legitimate alert will ask you to click on a link and enter your user ID and password. And no legitimate organization will ask you to verbally provide the authentication code over the phone.

Tip #3: Be extra careful on social media – and make sure your kids know this common scam

Most parents are vigilant about explaining social media risks to their children – but there is a growing financial scam, and young adults are very vulnerable. Scammers are reaching out to local teenagers and young adults through social media persuading them to give up their ATM cards and PIN numbers so the scammer can deposit counterfeit checks into the ATM and withdraw the funds. The scammers offer a cut of the stolen funds and explain to the account holder that this is a “risk free way to make a quick buck.” The account holders are then responsible for the stolen funds, and could face criminal charges, but the scammers are long gone with all or most of the money. Adults are often targeted, too. Scammers know people may be suffering from money troubles and offer an "easy" way to solve their problems. Don't fall for it. If you deposit a check that later turns out to be fraudulent, you are responsible for repaying those funds.

You should also be careful about the information you post on social media – by sharing your life story or even answering those fun quizzes you’ve been sent, you could unintentionally provide scammers with answers to challenge questions that can be used to reset important passwords. Everyone should be leery of any stranger who contacts them through social media messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, Instagram DMs or WhatsApp, and wants to start a conversation out of the blue. They may claim to have a mutual friend or hobby interest but they are often just looking for their next mark.

Tip #4: If you are asked for money through non-traditional means – it’s likely a scam

You may believe you are helping a friend, or a romantic interest that you’ve been speaking with for months, but if they begin asking for money, please be wary. And if the contact is asking for money through non-traditional means such as buying gift cards, making deposits to bit-coin ATMs, wires, or through digital wallets like Google Pay, you can bet it’s likely a scam.

Imposter scams are the most reported scams in the United States, and scammers work tirelessly to gain the trust of their victims. Imposter scams include people falsely claiming to be a well-known person or celebrity, a romantic interest, a friend or family member in distress, and a company or government representative. Imposters will work to isolate you from the people you trust, so never agree to keep a secret. They may try to convince you someone is trying to get your money, and that your financial institution, other companies, or even your family is “in on it.”  You should also never move or transfer money in order to “protect it.”

Tip #5: Threats or aggressive treatment is a major red flag

Scammers will often spend hours on the phone selling you a very compelling story. If you resist, the scammers may begin using aggressive fear tactics to make you believe that if you don’t act quickly, you’ll lose all of your money, or even face legal consequences. A reputable business, especially a financial institution, would never contact you and make threats or ask you to respond to an urgent request. Additionally, if someone urges you not to tell anyone about what they’re asking you to do, you are being scammed. When in doubt, end the communication immediately and contact the business through their published phone number on their website. 

Tip #6: You can’t trust your caller ID – and you still need to worry about clicking links

With advances in technology, scammers can now spoof the caller ID that shows up on your phone, impersonating companies, and financial institutions. Remember, your financial institution would never contact you via phone, email or text and ask you for your username, password, account number, credit or debit card number, PIN or CVV code, or any verification codes. 

You’re probably already familiar with phishing and smishing scams, conducted through email and text messages. The fraudulent messages will ask you to click a link or open an attachment, which downloads a hidden malicious code that can then be used to access personal information on your device. Always be cautious about opening attachments or links, whether they seem to be from a company you know or even a friend. Look for grammatical errors within the email, slight alterations to the email address format or domain, requests for login credentials or urgent action demands. To check for disguised links, hover your cursor over the link and check the URL that pops up to make sure it matches, before clicking.

Tip #7: If it sounds too good to be true, or even a little fishy – don’t chance it

The truth of the matter is, if you unintentionally give your money away to a scammer, you likely will not get it back, so it’s important to trust your instincts. Maybe you’ve been searching for your dream classic car for years, and you find the perfect deal on social media, but it needs to be shipped to you, so you must wire the funds sight unseen. When money is involved - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or you’re contacted by phone or email from a business you trust, but something doesn’t sound right. If your guts is telling you that something feels even just a little off, contact someone you trust. Financial institutions see fraudulent attempts and scams every day, their fraud experts are well-versed in the red flags and can listen to your or your loved ones’ situation to help you identify if it is a scam. 

Bonus: If you fall victim to a scam - don’t be embarrassed

If you are the victim of a scam, remember that you are not alone, and your story can help someone else. The FTC collected more than 2.6 million fraud reports in 2023, and individuals in every stage and phase of life are vulnerable to the many scams we see each and every day. If you believe you’ve engaged with a scammer, don’t be afraid to contact your financial institution, they are passionate about helping you protect your money. Scammers are often part of large, organized crime groups, and are extremely good at what they do, so you should never feel foolish or embarrassed for falling for a scam. Telling your story could save a friend or family member from also falling victim, or it could encourage them to take proactive steps to protect themselves.

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