By: Robert Hopkins
In today’s ever-growing technology-based society, fraud has become increasingly complicated and inventive. There are a multitude of ways you can be defrauded, or even tricked into participating in a fraudulent crime and paying the consequences. Hopefully it will never happen to you, but it’s in your best interest to prepare and safeguard yourself before a fraud situation arises. No matter what tactics they use to get it, fraudsters are usually after one thing: your personal information. Luckily, there are also several smart techniques you can use to avoid becoming a victim:
Fraudsters may try to call you over the phone and pose as a representative from a well-known company you may or may not do business with, or even from your financial institution. They may tell you that something is wrong with one of the accounts/products you own, that you have won an irresistible “contest prize,” or that they have a special offer for you that you can’t refuse, such as help with paying off student loans. (Calls like these can take other forms as well.) They then ask you for your personal information in exchange for whatever they are pretending to offer, and your information is then used to gain illegal access to your personal accounts.
Some fraudsters may even threaten you with “penalties” or “jail time” if you don’t do what they say, just to scare or pressure you into divulging your personal information without thinking twice. On the flipside, they may try to stir up your excitement by telling you that you won a contest. This approach gets you feeling comfortable with, rather than fearful of, the fraudster. Whichever one of your emotions the caller tries to play on, don’t fall for it. (And remember: If you don’t remember entering a contest, you most likely did not win one.)
No matter what, never give personal information—such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or debit or credit card number, or the three-digit security code on the back of your card—to any unsolicited callers. Reputable companies, including VyStar, will never call you to ask for such information over the phone. If you receive a call like this, simply hang up, look up the company’s corporate phone number online, and call them directly to confirm if the information request you received was legitimate. Don’t bother asking the caller for a phone number to reach the company: Chances are they will give you a phone number that will lead you right back to the criminal who is trying to defraud you.
If you have concerns, use cash when filling up at the gas station—it could help protect your credit or debit card information from being swiped by any card-reading device that may have been installed at the pump by a fraudster. If you prefer to use a card, like most of us do these days, always briefly inspect the pump’s card reader to ensure a skimming device is not attached. (This is also a great practice to follow at ATMs.) It’s also a good idea to keep a close eye on your checking account and credit card activity to catch fraud early if it does occur.
If you’re using your credit/debit card to make an in-store purchase, always prefer to use the EMV chip reader at the payment terminal, for extra security, rather than swiping. If the merchant doesn’t have a chip reader, swipe your card and make note of when and where you paid for the item(s), just in case.
And whenever you’re planning to go out of town, take out as much cash as you think you might need for your trip, then notify your financial institution or credit card company about your travel plans. This allows them to put a travel notice on your account, which is another way to protect it against fraudulent activity while you’re away.
If you happen to receive a message from a friend on social media asking you to send money, provide your personal information, or join in on a group scheme to defraud a financial institution (also known as a fraud ring), do not respond to it. Even if the message seems to be from someone you know, it very well may be that their account was hacked by a fraudster.
The fraudster begins by hacking into someone’s personal social media account and copying all the profile information to impersonate that person. (If the account is not private, they can even more easily pull all the information, without even having to hack into the account.) Then they create a fake account using the stolen credentials, and send new friend requests to the victim’s friends from that account, usually giving them the excuse that their account got hacked and they needed to send out new friend requests. Now that they have access to all their victim’s friends, the fraudster will reach out to those contacts under disguise and try to persuade them into joining a fraud ring.
If you get a message like this in your inbox and do what it says, or even if you engage in a conversation about partaking in fraud, you will have committed a crime—meaning you could have charges filed against you, and you could be subject to jail time and fees—whether or not the fraud actually takes place. Keep in mind that even if you try to delete your electronic conversations, they can still be easily recovered by authorities.
This could even affect your future potential to obtain employment, since many employers require background checks for new hires. Plus, every financial institution will be able to see that you defrauded another institution, and they will most likely not open an account for you.
Rather than responding to the message, ignore it and take immediate steps to report it to the social media platform.
Last but not least, do not try to play investigator. Once you realize someone is trying to defraud you in some way, it’s never a good idea to try to get their information and solve the problem yourself. The longer you engage with the fraudster, the greater the opportunity for them to scam you. Trust your gut: If something doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t. The best thing to do is to disengage right away by either hanging up the phone or ignoring their messages, and immediately reporting them to the proper authorities. It’s up to you to take the necessary steps to protect yourself as well as others.
We know mistakes happen sometimes, too. In the event that you accidentally give someone your personal information and you think you might be a victim of fraud, let your financial institution know right away. If you ever have questions or concerns about fraud, do not hesitate to call us at (904) 777-6000 or 1 (800) 445-6289 and speak to a VyStar representative.
Has a fraudster ever tried to scam you? Share your story with us in the comments section below.
The content provided in this blog consists of the opinions and ideas of the author alone and should be used for informational purposes only. VyStar Credit Union disclaims any liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.