We recently wrote about nine common bank-related scams targeting consumers today. But even those who have good online security practices – such as changing passwords regularly, monitoring accounts, and keeping anti-virus systems up-to-date – are vulnerable to scams. That’s because common scams rely on tapping into our emotions, including fear of punishment and fear of losing out on a “great deal.”
While a good rule of thumb is to consider it a scam if anyone calls, texts, or emails you asking for your financial information – there are also some common red flags that scammers use. When you know what to look for, it becomes much easier to avoid getting taken advantage of.
Here are the five easiest ways to spot a scam:
1. You Are Urged to Respond IMMEDIATELY
Time is a scammer’s worst enemy. The faster they can get you to act, the less time you have to think about what they’re asking and poke holes in their arguments. The longer you have to think about a scam, the more likely you are to realize something isn’t quite right.
By tapping into a sense of urgency, scammers encourage you to react based on your fear of missing out on a cash prize or your anxiety over being “in trouble” with a government agency or creditor. Any email or text with “RESPOND IMMEDIATELY” or “URGENT RESPONSE REQUIRED” should be considered suspicious.
2. You’ve Won a Contest You Didn’t Enter
How many emails do you receive that start with “You’ve won!” or “Claim your prize!” and ask you to click a link or send in financial or personal information in order to claim it?
The FTC recommends that you look for common red flags, which indicate the notification is probably a scam. If someone tells you to pay a fee to get your prize – and especially if they tell you to pay them by wiring money, sending cash, or paying with gift cards or cryptocurrency – it’s a scam. Real prizes are free.
Legally, winners of real sweepstakes must also be determined by chance. If you are asked to pay to enter or increase your odds of winning – it’s a scam. In addition, anyone asking for your financial information online or when they call you is trying to scam you.
3. You Must Pay in a Highly Specific Way
Most scammers will ask for money while pretending to “pay you back.” The most common way they do this is to send you a check for an amount that is greater than the amount of money they ask you to pay them through a money transfer or gift card.
You deposit the check they send you, and the money seems to appear in your account – but then the check bounces a few days later, after you’ve already sent their money transfer, and you are on the hook to your financial institution for the full check amount.
Scammers like to use payment options like money transfers, gift cards, and cryptocurrency because they are almost impossible to track.
4. You Get Urgent Financial Requests from Companies You Know
Using the name of a reputed organization – like the IRS, Social Security Administration, your local utility company, or a big shopping chain like Costco or Walmart – is a common scam tactic.
Scammers can even “spoof” your caller ID to make it look like they’re calling you from one of these agencies. When in doubt, tell the caller that you will phone them back – at the official agency number listed on the government or agency website.
5. You Get Threats About What Will Happen if You Don’t Pay
Scammers thrive on generating fear and confusion. Common scams include saying they have accessed illicit photos or internet activity of yours that they will share with your loved ones if you don’t pay them.
They may also pose as a government agency and warn that you will be arrested, deported, sued, or reported to the authorities if you do not respond immediately.
Suspicious? Ask the Experts
If you are unsure about any email or request for payment related to banking or financial matters, call Mercer Savings at 419.586.5158 for advice. Our financial officers are familiar with online banking-related scams, and we would be happy to provide you with an expert opinion.