The phone rings, and it’s someone claiming to be with your parents’ bank. The person then claims that there has been a security breach on their account. However, the person needs to confirm that they are indeed the owners of the account, so they are asked to provide their Social Security numbers and account number.
How do you think your parents would respond?
A) Provide the information that is requested.
B) Get suspicious, hang up and call their bank directly to see if something is wrong.
Hopefully, they would choose option B because a call like that is a scam. Yet, it would be understandable if they complied with the request because such scam calls seem legitimate—and, unfortunately, are all too common. In fact, Bank of the West recently sent its customers an email warning them to be on the lookout for impersonators claiming to represent the bank with the bank’s name even registering on caller ID.
If scammers can be that convincing, how can you help your parents distinguish a real call—or email or text—from a fake one? Here’s what to know about scams that target bank accounts and how to protect your aging parents, or yourself, from them.
Examples of bank scams
Scammers posing as bank representatives use a variety of methods to get people to hand over their account or personal information. According to several banks as well as the American Bankers Association, some of the more common scams are as follows:
- Text messages about an issue related to your account, such as an unauthorized transaction or a debit card that has been deactivated and needs to be reactivated by providing your PIN.
- Emails with a link to view your bank statement or bank invoice.
- Calls supposedly from a bank representative claiming that you need to verify your birthday and Social Security number for security reasons or as part of bank system updates.
- Requests to fill out customer service surveys in exchange for money being credited to your account after providing your account number.
- Calls, emails or text messages about a refund owed to you that requires you to use a wire transfer, gift card and payment service such as Zelle to receive the refund.
Red flags that a call, email or text is a scam
All of the examples above include telltale signs of scams. If you or your parents are aware of those red flags, it will be easier to determine whether calls, emails and text messages are from legitimate financial institutions or scammers.
One of the biggest giveaways that a call, text or email is a scam is a request for personal or account information.
One of the biggest giveaways that a call, text or email is a scam is a request for personal or account information. If customers call their bank, they may be asked to verify their identity. However, rarely will banks reach out to customers by a phone call, text or email and ask them to provide the following information, according to the American Bankers Association.
- Account number
- Username or password
- Your Social Security number
- Your PIN
- Your birthday
- Your address
- To fill out a form
- To download an attachment
- Reveal a security question answer
Be especially wary if any requests for information also involve pressure to take immediate action to avoid having something bad happen. This is a big scam red flag.
How to help parents avoid becoming victims
Warning your parents about common scams and scam red flags is a great first step to take to help them avoid becoming victims. To further protect them, tell your parents to hang up on calls they get out of the blue requesting that they provide personal information or information about their bank account—even if the call appears to be coming from their bank. They should call the number on their bank statement, debit card or credit card and report the call they received.
Caution your parents not to click on any links in emails or text messages that appear to come from their financial institutions. They also shouldn’t download any attachments in emails or reply to the senders. Instead, they should forward suspicious emails to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com and to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. If they receive suspicious text messages, they can forward them to SPAM (7726).
What to do if they become victims
Your parents might be reluctant to come to you if they think they’ve been scammed, or they might not realize that they are victims. So it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that your parents are victims of scams, such as unusual activity in their bank account. Taking advantage of technology by signing your parents up to receive account alerts from their bank when transactions are made or using the Carefull app to monitor their financial accounts 24/7 for unusual activity can help you quickly spot signs of scams and fraud.
If you do discover that they are victims, help your parents call their bank’s fraud department and explain the situation. They might need to freeze their account or close it entirely to avoid further damage. If their account usernames and passwords were stolen, they will need to change their login credentials as well as login credentials for any other accounts with the same usernames and passwords. Also, make sure they take these steps:
- Visit the websites of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to put a security freeze on their credit reports so no other lines of credit can be opened in their names if their identities have been stolen.
- Place a security alert on their ChexSystems consumer file by calling 888-478-6536 or completing an online form.
- File a report with their local law enforcement and get a copy of the report in case they need proof of the crime to submit to other financial institutions.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report an ID theft incident by visiting IdentityTheft.gov.
Most importantly, keep calm as you help your parents and don’t blame them for what has happened. You want them to know that they can come to you for support if they end up in a similar situation again.
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