A Guide to Financial Safety in the 21st Century
Technology has made it more convenient than ever to manage your finances. Services such as online banking, electronic bill payment, telephone banking and e-statements offer tremendous advantages over the previous time-consuming methods of working with your accounts.
However, along with the benefits of technology come a few cautions. Technology savvy thieves and scam artists have developed a handful of tricks designed to separate you from your money. While most fraud is still perpetrated using the same “low-tech” methods that have been used in the past, criminals are more frequently turning to “hi-tech” deceptions.
The best defense against these modern scammers is to keep yourself educated and alert. This guide contains a number of helpful hints that will allow you to receive all the benefits today’s technologies have to offer. without becoming one of a growing number of victims of the following scams:
Identity theft is a rapidly growing threat to your financial security. Nationwide, the number of reported cases is increasing at an alarming rate. A criminal who successfully steals your identity can wreak havoc on your finances and your good credit. Follow these basic steps to avoid becoming a victim:
- Don’t give out your personal information – Never reveal your account numbers, personal account information or social security numbers over the telephone, via mail, email, or over the internet, unless you initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with.
- Dispose of sensitive personal information safely – Carelessly discarded financial documents can be a treasure trove of information to a thief. Tear up or shred credit card and ATM receipts, account statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
- Protect your PIN number and other passwords – Keeping your passwords and PINs secure is essential to your financial security. Don’t set your passwords or PINs using information that can be easily obtained. (Such as your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your social security number or you phone number).
- Only carry identifying information that you routinely use – Keep your driver’s license, credit card and related items close at hand. Don’t carry more identification in your wallet or purse than you need on a daily basis.
- Watch your account information and billing statements – Know your billing cycles and review your monthly account statements carefully. Make sure that all charges, drafts, or withdrawals were authorized.
- Prevent the theft of your mail – Don’t allow incoming mail to accumulate in your mailbox. Retrieve it promptly. Deposit all of your outgoing mail at post office collection boxes. Don’t leave outgoing mail in your unsecured mailbox.
- Review copies of your credit report – Thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, one free copy of your credit report is now available annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. We strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to review your credit report each year. You should check it carefully for any errors and for signs of fraudulent activity. The federal government required the creation of a centralized location where consumers may reliably obtain their free credit reports. To receive your free annual credit reports:
—Mail your request to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
- If you become a victim of identity theft, take the following steps as quickly as possible to minimize the potential damage to you:
- File a police report with your local law enforcement agency. You will need a report on file in order to dispute unauthorized charges.
- Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus to report the identity theft and request that the bureaus place a fraud alert status in your file. You are also entitled by law to receive a free copy of your credit report if you are a victim of identity theft.
To Report Fraud
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s toll-free Identity Theft Hotline. To contact the hotline call:
- The FTC will take a report and place your name in the nationwide “Consumer Sentinel” consumer fraud database shared by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
- Finally, contact your creditors and inform them. Close your accounts, change all account passwords, and obtain new credit, debit, and ATM cards. For additional information on what you can do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft, visit:
Internet Phishing is the criminal practice of sending seemingly legitimate emails instructing you to click on a link in the message. This link directs you to a “spoofed” website of a company or financial institution you may have dealings with. These fraudulent websites are deceptive because they cleverly simulate official looking logos or financial symbols. At the website you will be asked to submit personal information such as your account numbers, passwords, or PINs. This information can then be used to commit a variety of crimes; from draining your accounts obtaining credit cards in your name. What can you do to protect yourself?
- Be suspicious – Be wary of any email that is awkwardly worded. Many of these scams originate outside of the U.S. The financial institutions you have a relationship with should never be emailing you to ask for the information these emails request.
- Never click on the link to the website included in the email – If you are at all concerned that the email is legitimate, you should type the web address you have on file for the financial institution in a new browser window. You can also call the financial institution. However, never call the number listed in the email. Rely on a number you know to be legitimate when contacting the institution.
- Check to see if the website is secure – If a website doesn’t display the locked padlock or key icon used to indicate a secure website do not use it to transmit personal or financial sensitive information!
Counterfeit checks that look like official cashier’s checks, money orders or teller’s checks are becoming easier for scammers to make using personal computers. These fraudulent checks are appearing with alarming frequency. Thieves know that people tend to think of official looking checks as a safe way to transact money, and they play on trusting people’s good will. Counterfeit check scams are often carried out in one of the following ways:
- The counterfeit may be sent as payment for an item you advertised for sale — This is particularly true for more expensive items and items sold over the internet.
- The counterfeit may be sent in association with lottery or prize winnings for a contest that you never even entered — Don’t let internet thieves fool you with an offer that is simply too good to be true.
- The counterfeit may be sent as payment for a “work-at-home” job.
As in the case of the frequently appearing Nigerian Overpayment Scam, the payor is usually from a foreign country and the amount of the check received is typically more than the amount agreed upon. The payor will give an excuse as to why this excess amount was included and instruct you to return the overpayment to the payor as quickly as possible. The catch is, when you endorse and deposit or cash the check you become responsible for the funds; not the receiving bank and not the paying bank. You can’t assume that just because the bank has made the funds “available” that the check has cleared.
If the check is discovered to be a counterfeit weeks later, you may be asked to reimburse the bank the entire amount of the check.
The overpayment amount you already sent back to the scam artist will likely never be recovered! What steps should you take to defend yourself from this scheme?
- Never agree to deal requiring you to send back an overpayment of excess funds — No legitimate business or buyer should ever ask you to do this for them. If you do deposit or cash the counterfeit check and send the overpayment back, you run the very likely risk of being stung with a loss of thousands of dollars when you are asked to refund the full amount of the fraudulent checks. If you receive a check and you are concerned about its legitimacy, we encourage you to take the following steps:
- Bring the check is to one of our managers — We will assist you in determining whether or not the check is authentic.
- Call the paying bank identified on the check — The paying bank can verify the authenticity of the check as well as the payor. Don’t attempt to contact the bank by calling any telephone number printed on the check itself. If the check is a fraud, that number will likely put you in contact with the scammers’s partner in crime. Instead you are urged to use a verifiable number for the institution. A legitimate number can be found by calling information, searching on the internet or looking on the institutions published advertising. When you get through, ask to speak with the fraud department.
- Consider requesting that any payments be drawn on a local institution or an institution with a local branch — This way you can verify the authenticity of the check in person.
- Do no withdraw cash or write checks against the deposited funds until the check has officially cleared — If the check is payment for an item, you may want to wait to deliver the item until the check clears.
Scammers and thieves are continually seeking ways to exploit technology for their purposes. We hope that this guide will prove helpful by alerting you to existing schemes and educating you on ways to identify and protect your finances from future ones.
If you think you may have been victimized, contact us immediately. We can provide the necessary resources and guidance to help you minimize your exposure to risk.