Fraud is a pervasive problem that can impact anyone, regardless of age, income, or financial expertise. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of fraud and scams that exist and provide tips for protecting yourself and your finances from becoming a victim.
Types of fraud and scams
Phishing, the most common type of fraud today, is the process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers by posing as a person or organization you trust – usually by email.
Phishing emails and texts, which have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, often entice users to click on a link or open an attachment containing malicious code, or direct users to fake log-in pages for popular brand sites that look almost identical to the real thing.
Identity theft is also on the rise and occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it to take your money, use your credit cards or open new ones, file tax returns, make health insurance claims and more. There are numerous ways personal information can be stolen – from online data breaches to someone stealing your mail.
Some popular and common scams today include:
- Tech support scams – These emails claim you have malware or viruses on your computer and ask you to install software to fix it.
- Clone scams – Hackers create almost identical copies of legitimate emails from reputable brands (such as Amazon or PayPal) to get you to share private information.
- Spear or whale phishing scams – Scammers will target attacks at specific individuals or top executives at companies, doing research on the person first to make their emails seem credible.
- Charitable donations scam – Preying on people’s generous nature, scammers send out emails that look like they are coming from a legitimate charity to capture your donation.
- Fitness and weight loss scams – These scams promote miracle weight loss products or programs, using fake websites to collect your sign-up or payment information and then giving you nothing in return.
- Car warranty scams – A spam call where someone is “trying to reach you to discuss your car’s extended warranty” is a one of the most prevalent scams in the world right now, where the scammers will either collect your personal info or try to sell you a fake warranty.
- Gift card scams – Scammers sometimes tamper with gift cards in store to steal their barcodes, drain the funds, or operate a fraudulent gift card exchange site.
- Romance scams – Romance scammers are adept at gaining people’s trust online, telling convincing lies and concocting plausible stories to get the victim to give them money.
Warning signs to watch for
- Avoid emails that look suspicious. If an email is supposedly from someone you know but it doesn’t sound like them, consider forwarding that message back to them instead of hitting reply – but best practice is to call them directly to see if they really sent it.
- Check the sender’s actual email address – if it has the name misspelled or is a long sequence of numbers and letters, it’s probably not a legitimate email.
- Never provide personal or confidential information via email and avoid clicking on suspicious links – even if they appear to come from trustworthy sources. You can hover over links before clicking to view the URL and verify it is a legitimate site.
- Watch out for threats or deadlines. Hackers often will threaten to shut down your account or say they need information from you immediately to create a sense of urgency or danger. Don’t fall for it.
- Pay attention to email content. While it may look like a message from a trusted brand, a closer look may reveal typos, spelling or grammar errors, or images that don’t look quite right.
- In the case of a romance scam, never send money to a person you haven’t met in person.
Monitor your accounts
- Open and read your bank account and credit billing statements as soon as you receive them to check for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If you find any, report them immediately to your bank or credit card company.
- Order a free copy of your credit report by phone, toll-free at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Keep track of when you receive monthly bills and financial statements. If they don’t arrive on time, call the company to see if they have been mailed. Statements may be missing because someone has changed your mailing addresses to hide fraudulent charges. Consider online bill pay to avoid mail scams.
Protect your sensitive information
- Store documents that display your personal information, such as financial documents, bank statements, and credit card statements in a secure place.
- Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you called the organization yourself and are 100% certain they are who they say they are. For example, the IRS will never call you and ask for your SSN or credit card numbers over the phone – that is a common scam.
- Consider opting out of most prescreened offers of credit by calling 1-888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com. Those offers could be used by identity thieves who steal mail and open accounts in your name.
- Pick up your mail promptly and use a secure mailbox.
- Using a cross-cut shredder, shred receipts, credit offers, loan and credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, and other sensitive documents when you are done with them.
Be smart online
- Avoid sending private information such as passwords, account numbers, or other personal information in email, on social media, or in text messages.
- Before you buy something online or donate to a charity, make sure the webpage you are on is legitimate. The web address should begin with https (“s” for secure) and should show a closed padlock.
- Use different and strong passwords for each of your online accounts, using a mix of letters (uppercase and lower case), numbers and symbols, and don’t share your passwords with anyone. Consider using a password manager if you have a hard time keeping track.
- Use only one credit card for your online purchases. Do not use a debit card.
- Boost your computer’s security by installing automatic updates to your software, using legitimate antivirus software, and a firewall.
- Understand that using a public computer or your own computer over a public wireless connection can add to the risk of identity theft.
- Finally, before you sell, give away or dispose of a laptop, computer or mobile device, be sure you have wiped clean all the personal information you have stored on it. Learn more from the Federal Trade Commission on disposing of old technology.
What to do if you’re a victim of fraud
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud, take the following steps:
- Stop paying any money immediately (if applicable) and cease all contact with the suspected fraudster.
- Collect and compile all information you can about the fraud to help with an investigation. Write down the names used by the fraudsters, take screenshots of websites, save emails, capture social media interactions, gather receipts, statements, exchanges of digital currencies, etc.
- Protect your identity and accounts. If a credit card has been involved, call your credit card company to report it immediately. If other accounts were impacted, contact your bank or other providers right away.
- File a claim with the Federal Trade Commission and with the local police.
It’s important that we spread awareness about fraud prevention to our friends and family, especially seniors who often fall prey to scammers. The US Dept. of Justice provides a wide range of Fraud Awareness resources that you can access and share to educate others on fraud prevention.
Fraud prevention is an essential part of financial literacy. By understanding the different types of fraud and scams that exist and taking proactive steps to protect yourself and your finances, you can minimize the risk of becoming a victim. By educating yourself and others, you can help to create a safer and more financially savvy community.
Valley can help
At Valley, we are committed to protecting our customers against cybercrime, identity theft, fraud and any kind of financial exploitation. We take our customers’ security very seriously and take significant measures to protect the security of your bank accounts and your personal information.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud or you’re unsure, please contact your Banking Team, reach out to Valley Customer Care at 800-522-4100, or connect with us at valley.com/security