The phone rings, and it’s someone claiming to be with your bank. The person then claims that there has been a security breach on youraccount. However, the person needs to confirm that you are indeed the owners of the account, so you are asked to provide your Social Security numbers and account number.
How would you 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, you would choose option B because a call like that is a scam. Yet, it would be understandable if you 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 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 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 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 avoid becoming a victim
Always hang up on calls you get out of the blue requesting that you provide personal information or information about your bank account—even if the call appears to be coming from your bank. You should call the number on your bank statement, debit card or credit card and report the call you received.
Do not click on any links in emails or text messages that appear to come from your financial institutions. You also shouldn’t download any attachments in emails or reply to the senders. Instead, forward suspicious emails to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com and to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. If you receive suspicious text messages, they can forward them to SPAM (7726).
[Read: How Seniors Can Protect Their Credit and Identity]
What to do if you become a victim
Taking advantage of technology by signing up to receive account alerts from your bank when transactions are made or using the Carefull app to monitor your financial accounts 24/7 for unusual activity can help you quickly spot signs of scams and fraud.
If you do discover that you are a victim, call your bank’s fraud department and explain the situation. You might need to freeze your account or close it entirely to avoid further damage. If your account usernames and passwords were stolen, change your login credentials as well as login credentials for any other accounts with the same usernames and passwords. Also, take these steps:
- Visit the websites of the three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—to put a security freeze on your credit reports so no other lines of credit can be opened in your name if their identity has been stolen.
- Place a security alert on your 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 you 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.
[ Keep Reading: What to Do When Your Identity Is Stolen ]