Keep Your Money Safe: Protect Yourself from Common Scams
In this episode of Money Smarts, a podcast from Summit Credit Union, we talk about popular scams and how fraudsters trick you into sharing information you shouldn't. Learn about these common scams and get tips to protect yourself from fraud with Lisa Ryerson, one of Summit Credit Union's fraud specialists.
AMY CROWE, HOST: Welcome to Money Smarts. I'm Amy Crowe, the financial education specialist at Summit Credit Union and your host for our time together today. Has this happened to anyone else out there? You're going through your emails. You see one from a credit card company, you read it and it says that someone has hacked into your account. And to put a freeze on it, you just need to enter your credit card number, your expiration, your CVV code, and it'll be taken care of. Gosh, you know, I would be super worried to be on the hook for any charges that might come. I don't want to be separated from my money. So I go to my purse, I grab my card, I click on the link, I enter the information and click send. And then there's that little voice in my head that says, uh-oh, what did I do? Was that email even real? Cyber crimes that lead to fraud on your financial accounts is a common problem that affects people of all ages, even high school and college age kids who are just starting out. Today, we're going to talk about popular scams and how fraudsters trick you into sharing information you shouldn't. And then some tips to protect yourself from fraud with Lisa Ryerson, one of Summit Credit Union's fraud specialists. Welcome, Lisa.
LISA: Thanks for having me today, Amy.
AMY: Lisa, let's start with this. As consumers, we have to be aware of the emails that come into our email box. You never know when an email that looks like it's coming from a reputable company is really a cyber criminal looking for an unsuspecting person who will share their personal financial information with them. What are some common tech or cyber crimes, those scams that you have seen in your work?
LISA: Well, Amy, the most common one that we see is typically from a reputable company where you think it's legit email, typically from Microsoft or anti Norton virus. Amazon is another one. The email says you have or about to be charged for a product or an auto renew or a new order. And then it states, if this is a mistake, you should call the number immediately or click on a link in the email to resolve your issue. Which in fact, this link is a scammer waiting for you to enter your personal information.
AMY: In fact, I've had a few of these come through my email. They look really simple. It might be that Norton antivirus one that you're talking about where it's saying it's going to charge me $200. It's a renewable charge. And I'm like, I don't remember even buying this product. So I think I feel like I need to clear up the mistake. What advice do you have for folks?
LISA: My advice is take your time, make sure the email is legit. Don't click right away. They make it sound so urgent like they could lose their job. It's your fault. You need to pay now. Others might ask you for your password to remote into your computer to remove the program or the virus that they're stating in the email you have. They also may tell you that your computer is corrupted. All this is signs of scams. Just stop. Take your time and make sure it's legit. Don't click on the link or don't call the number immediately. What I would suggest also is instead of clicking on that link or calling the number immediately is look for another source to make sure that you're actually calling the correct person or linking up with the correct company.
AMY: So your advice is to not click on those links, don't use the number that they're providing in the communication that they've sent to you unsolicited. And most of all, do not pay them.
LISA: Exactly, Amy, that's correct. One thing I would suggest as well is monitoring your account, seeing if any charges do come through and then dispute the charge with your financial.
AMY: So besides the phishing emails, there are so many phone scams, which I just learned were called vishing scams with a V. Now I know there's the car warranty scams. I think I get multiple ones a week on a car that I haven't had in the last 10 years, by the way. The hotel vacation scams, my favorite hotel is calling me, giving me a free night stay. These calls really kind of play on your emotions because they're trying to give you something for free or they're trying to sell you something.
LISA: Yes, so people lose a lot of money on phone scams, sometimes their life savings. These scammers are really good. They've found so many different ways to cheat you out of your money. In some cases, they act really helpful and friendly. In other cases, they're threatening you, using different tactics, maybe possibly saying they're going to deport you.
AMY: So if someone calls me and they say they're going to shut down my checking account or that a debt collector is going to be knocking on my door if I don't give them my credit card number, these are tried and true common scams.
LISA: Yes, they are. You won't be arrested. You don't need to decide now. Never send cash or pay with gift cards. And just note that the government is never going to call and ask you for sensitive information.
AMY: So let's say you end up believing this phishing email or the vishing phone call and maybe you didn't have enough red flags to make you uneasy or to give you that kind of gut check that you needed to stop and pause. What do you do if you fall victim to a scam? What are your next steps?
LISA: Well, I would suggest the first thing to do is to contact the credit union. You want to check your account, definitely, just to make sure there aren't any unwanted charges on your accounts. Once you call the credit union, we can block your debit or credit card. Then we can reissue a new card. If you need to dispute anything or do a fraud claim, we can help you with that as well.
AMY: So what if I end up giving them my username, my password, and I use that username and password for other accounts? And I know, I know I shouldn't do that. I should have individual username and passwords for every different thing that I have. But what should I do?
LISA: Well, I would recommend changing your password right away, making your password long and strong and make it original. And like you said, don't use the same one for each one. And I know all of us have a ton of passwords we have to remember, but we have to be secure.
AMY: I've heard that teenagers tend to use their sports jersey number, the year they graduate, their birthday on their phone passwords, their online banking passwords. Do you see that, too, with younger folks?
LISA: Yeah, I've heard that, too.
AMY: And I think it's just a cautionary tale that, if you have younger folks that you care about in your life, checking in with them, finding out if they are using the same username and password, if they're using personal identifiable information that can be easily found on social media as their username and password. It's an important thing to be able to change that and make that unique. I've even heard, Lisa, that you can use a sentence like the red fox runs fast and then use different symbols and numbers as part of that sentence. And it's a little bit easier to remember, I think. And then it could be also customized for each company that you might be dealing with.
LISA: Exactly. That's great advice. I definitely agree with that. So one last tip that I want to give. Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred. Depending upon the situation, you want to report it to the local police. They may or may not be able to help you. But I would also suggest you definitely want to report it. And a great place to report it is identitytheft.gov.
AMY: Identitytheft.gov. Awesome. Thank you. Great information about what to do if you happen to give up your username or your password, but what if you give out your birth date or your Social Security number? What should you do?
LISA: Great question, Amy. So if you've given out your Social Security number, you're going to want to check your credit report, and you can do that at annualcreditreport.com. You want to consider, which I would recommend, putting an alert or freeze on your credit report after reviewing it. Or you can go to any of the three credit reporting sites like TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.
AMY: What is the difference between that credit freeze and that fraud alert if you go to annualcreditreport.com?
LISA: So the credit freeze obviously does what it says, it's a freeze. You can turn that on and off instantly. Credit alert will still allow lenders to see your credit report, but it requires verification of your identity before any credit application can be processed. So there's three different types of fraud alerts. One is the initial fraud alert that can be set up for any reason and it lasts a year. The active duty alert obviously is for active armed forces while they're on assignment. And that again lasts for another year. The extended fraud alert lasts for seven years, but that requires you to actually have a fraud report supplied by law enforcement. And that lasts seven years.
AMY: So it sounds like it's pretty easy, if you've accidentally given out your username or password, the biggest tip is to then change your username and password, especially if it's the same in a variety of different ways, because once your scammer has your information, they might be able to use the dark web to figure out other things and different things like that. But then the other tip you have is if you do give out your date of birth and Social Security number, that's really when you can use those two tools that you were talking about, that credit freeze or the fraud alert, which you can find more information about at annualcreditreport.com. So we briefly talked about spotting those phishing emails, those vishing scams. What other scams have you seen or what red flags should people be looking at to be able to spot that scam and avoid it? What else are you seeing out there?
LISA: So there are quite a few, but some of the most common ones are online job scams. Anyone willing to pay you prior to doing any work and then asking you to purchase items for this new job and asking for money back, obviously, you see some red flags in there. Any time you're asked to purchase gift cards as payment for someone, definitely a red flag. You've won a prize, that's another one. If it's too good to be true, it is. Another one is if someone has a family emergency and they're calling you needing to get money to a lawyer or to get out of jail. Any time they're asking for bail money for an emergency, scam.
AMY: I know that that's one where the elderly are really scammed, like they're pretending to be a grandchild that's in jail and needs to be bailed out and all of those types of things. So making sure not only that you alert your teenagers about fraud and scams and what to look for, but also having conversations with your elderly parents about those things as well, I think, is just a good rule in general.
LISA: Exactly, Amy. The grandparents scam is probably one of the worst ones. They really prey on your emotions and they make it, again, seem so urgent that the grandparent, without even contacting the family members, send money.
AMY: So we've been in a pandemic for over a year. What are you seeing out there and related to pandemic scams?
LISA: Well, the pandemic really was a perfect storm for fraudsters. We've seen multiple scams involving stimulus, unemployment insurance. We've also seen scams-- I mean, you can look on FTC.gov. They have a lot of different blogs about COVID scams. Not only those, but PPE, vaccines, and so forth.
AMY: Lisa, what do you do if somebody from the credit union calls you to verify your information?
LISA: First of all, the credit union would never call you to verify your information.
Scammers will pose as credit union representatives sometimes. They'll ask you personal identifiable information. So ultimately, when the fraudsters get your card number, your CVV, and your expiration date, they upload it to their digital wallet to make purchases wherever.
AMY: Oh, Lisa, I never even thought about that with this whole thing, technology, the fact that we can have digital wallets on our phone, we can have access to our debit card, our credit card, our rewards points, all of these things on our phones now. It's so critical for us to have a password on our phone, to maybe use that face ID, and then just really be aware that we could accidentally give out our information and somebody could be using it really easy. You know, Lisa, 10, 15 years ago, those magnetic strips on the back of your debit card, people could take that information and then they make another plastic card. Nowadays, they're just using the information and in our digital world, they can do so much more damage than they could before. Is that correct?
LISA: That's right, Amy. Never give out your personal identifiable information.
AMY: So, Lisa, I know social media today is so full of advertisements for clothes and household goods from companies that I have never even heard of, but their stuff is super cute. How do I know if they're real or if I do order something from a company that I think is a small business, but I've never heard of them before, what should I do?
LISA: So before you click on that link to buy that cute little dress, do your research, make sure it's a legitimate company.
AMY: I really think that teenagers and 20 somethings are so much more susceptible to these social media scams, people preying on their innocence. What are you seeing for these younger age groups? How are they being taken advantage of by scammers?
LISA: So the younger age group is really being taken advantage of. Typically asking them to cash a check and it ends up being counterfeit and then they're stuck with the loss.
AMY: Tell me more about that. How would they even be approached?
LISA: So a lot of times they're approached on social media, whether it be Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok. The Post typically says if you want to make some money fast, let me know. I can help you out. A lot of times they're promised to keep some of the cash, maybe 100 or 200 dollars. But then the check, like I said, ends up being bad and they're stuck with a negative balance.
AMY: So what happens when they have a negative balance at the credit union, then?
LISA: Well, they're going to end up liable for the negative balance. They sometimes can be reported to Chex, which in the long run they don't think about, because if they eventually want to get a car, they want to get a loan, but they're still stuck with that ChexSystems record with that negative balance.
AMY: So tell me what ChexSystems is.
LISA: ChexSystems is a reporting agency that credit unions and other financials use to report people with suspect activity and/or negative balances.
AMY: It's like your credit report almost because your credit report is keeping track of your positive payments and where you're borrowing money from. But it sounds like ChexSystems really is kind of for checking accounts.
LISA: That's right, Amy. If you would go to another financial and you had a Chex record, you more than likely will not be able to open an account there and/or get any lending.
AMY: What other tips do you have to help protect someone, especially someone who's young, to help them monitor their accounts for fraudulent activity?
LISA: Well, this is good for everyone, not just young adults. I would recommend setting up alerts on your account. That's just another layer of protection for you to control your account. You can set up alerts through the credit union online banking system. If you just go to settings tab and then alerts, you can customize your own alerts. We also now offer LifeLock for your credit card, and that's through Visa online so that you can get alerts as well. There's dark web monitoring. It informs you about data breaches, if your wallet's stolen, and then it gives you assistance in how to recoup.
AMY: Tell me more about this LifeLock.
LISA: LifeLock is an option that you can add to your credit card. The benefit is at no cost. And you can set it up through the Visa website. If you need the link for the website, you can certainly give us a call and we can get that to you.
AMY: What other scams are you seeing out there right now? What's kind of trending that we haven't mentioned already?
LISA: Another scam that we see a lot of, and especially through the pandemic, are romance scams. This really has increased over the last year. Typically how you're approached, it's through social media again or dating websites. People make fake profiles, they reach out to you, they gain your trust, and then they start asking for money.
AMY: So when they ask for money, it's really playing on the emotions of the person that they've made this connection to. What are they saying they need the money for?
LISA: So since this person is emotionally tied to this other person and they trust them, they want to help them out. They're asking for money to pay for their visa so they can come visit them. They're asking for money to get travel documents. They need to retrieve something from customs. A lot of times they ask them to wire the money. Gift cards are common. It's even sometimes really small just to pay household bills. But when they tell you they're going to come to visit, an emergency always comes up.
AMY: So if you realize that you're part of this romance scam or if you see a relative that you think is being taken advantage of by somebody, what are some tips that you have?
LISA: My advice would be to stop all communication, whether it be phone calls, texts, emails. And then I would recommend calling the credit union, especially if you've given out any personal identifiable information. We can help you. And then especially, report it.
AMY: Lisa, is someone held liable for the fraud charges they see on their credit card?
LISA: No, they're not. And I would recommend once they do see the fraud charges, to report it right away so that we can get your credit card locked down and get a new one issued for you.
AMY: Lisa, we've talked about so much. We've talked about those emails, those texts, those romance scams, the high school kids that are falling victim to these check cashing scams. This is really all criminal activity. This is fraud. Should someone be calling the police about this?
LISA: Depending upon the situation, yes, I would recommend calling the police. And you can start at the local level. Like I said, it really depends upon the situation. They may or may not be able to help you, but definitely report it. Another good place to report it is the Federal Trade Commission, FTC.gov. They collect the data and if there's multiple cases, they combine them and share with other law enforcement agencies to actually put a case together for the scammers.
AMY: Or just put out press releases to let the public know that these scams exist.
LISA: That's right. And those press reports or blogs really help other people involved in any of these criminal activities.
AMY: So I think the best thing is, if you've given out your personal information, contacting your financial institution, contacting your credit card company, you'll then work with that fraud department. You'll dispute charges, different things like that. But ultimately, by reporting it to the Federal Trade Commission, you could be helping others when these new scams come out because they could then share that information with the general public.
LISA: That's exactly right, Amy.
AMY: Lisa, what are some things that the credit union is doing to protect our members from fraud?
LISA: So Summit is continuously monitoring your transactions. If we see something out of the ordinary on your card, we're going to go ahead and reach out to you to verify those transactions.
AMY: So if I go on vacation, Lisa, will I get a phone call from the credit union if I start making transactions while I'm on vacation?
LISA: You might receive a call from Summit Credit Union, especially if you're traveling and you didn't let us know. So if you are traveling, just give us a call and let us know where you're going. And happy vacation.
AMY: Lisa, thank you so much for sharing this information with us today about protecting yourself from fraud. We have covered so many topics today. Any last thoughts that you want to share with folks?
LISA: Just a couple of tips that I want to end with today is never give out your personal identifiable information. And like the old saying is, if it's too good to be true, it is.
AMY: Well, Lisa, thank you so much. I have learned a ton from you today, and I really appreciate your time. Thank you.
LISA: Thanks, Amy.
AMY: Join us next time for our Money Smarts podcast to get more tips, tools, and advice on how you can own your money. Discover more money smarts at SummitCreditUnion.com, like us on our Facebook page, tweet us, or pin something from our Pinterest boards. That's all for today. Thanks for listening. And remember, it's your money. Own it.