Top Financial Scams

Top Financial Scams

According to a 2013 FINRA Investor Education Foundation survey of 2,000 people, more than 8 in 10 consumers have received a potentially fraudulent offer.

Scams. They're becoming increasingly common: Emails with offers that sound too good to be true. Text messages alerting you to false problems with your credit/debit card.  Threatening phone calls demanding immediate action. We want to keep our members safe, so our security team assembled a list of common financial scams that are affecting people worldwide and more importantly, some easy steps you can take to avoid them. (Do you believe your account is showing fraudulent activity? Contact us right away: Call (206) 439-5400 or (800) 233-2328).

PIN Fraud

What is it?

Scammers call individuals posing as a financial institution stating their card or PIN has been compromised and they need to re-set it. They will then “assist” helping re-set the PIN. This is fraud. PIN codes are purposefully stored in encrypted files so that no individual except you knows your PIN – not a credit union employee, manager or even CEO.

When you re-set a pin, it is done either by an automated process or in-person at a branch using a touchpad. In both instances, only you can see or hear your PIN as it's entered.

Call your financial institution directly if you are having any issues with your card.

“Sweetheart” Scams

What Are They?

This type of scam occurs when the victim-to-be starts a romantic relationship with the scammer, who attempts to gain trust through promises of love and new lives together. At first, there will likely be no mention of needing money from the victim. But then, suddenly, a problem pops up that only the victim's money can solve. It might sound innocent enough at first: “I want to come see you, but I'm too broke to make the trip,” “My mom just had a stroke and I can't afford to go see her,” etc.

The end goal of the scammer, unbeknownst to the victim, is to try to gain control of a bank account under the victim's name. This ensures the scammer doesn't have to open a fraudulent account or hack into a legitimate one. 

Avoid the Scam

Love is a powerful emotion. When you're first getting to know somebody in an online relationship, resist the urge to help the other person financially if a sudden problem occurs. If you suspect you may have been victimized by a sweetheart scammer, file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center immediately.

ATM Scams

What are they?

ATM scams often involve the use of foreign objects, also known as skimmers, to modify the machine in order to capture your information. These devices can then steal the information embedded in  your card when you access the machine to withdraw cash, make a deposit, or check your balance. Skimmers can also be used to capture card information to print fake cards or to make fraudulent online payments. The most alarming part of this method of scamming is in most cases, the affected ATM doesn't appear to look any different than it normally would.

Avoid the Scam 

Be aware of your surroundings – trust your intuition! If you see or sense something suspicious, do not use the ATM. Before using any ATM, inspect the area around you, as well as the machine itself. Look for loose or suspect attachments on the card slot, such as sticky adhesive or even scratches. These are common signs that scammers leave when attempting to modify an ATM. Even if the machine looks fine, be proactive: Block the top and side views of the key pad when entering your PIN, and always take your receipts with you. Be sure to check your account transactions on a daily basis to monitor for any abnormal activity.

Copycat Websites

What Are They?

A copycat website is a fraudulent site that disguises itself as a legitimate organization or page. The website may try to emulate the look and feel of a bank, credit union, or government webpage, yet one look at the address bar and it's clear that the website isn't legit. Any information you input while on the fraudulent site is recorded by scammers.

Avoid the Scam 

The safest way to visit a banking or financial website is to enter the institution's correct web address in the address bar. For example, if the site has a page that requires you to input sensitive information, such as your Social Security or credit card number, check to make sure the address has a padlock symbol before the address, and that the address begins with “https://” instead of simply “http://.” That prefix indicates the site is encrypted, which means your information will be secure once entered. 

Heading to BECU's site? Enter directly into your address bar and click the top right button. BECU's cybersecurity team monitors for fraudulent sites and works with our partners, including law enforcement, to remove them as quickly as possible. And remember, for your security, BECU would never request details from you such as CVV and PIN numbers.


What Are They?Ever received a phone call from a recorded, robotic voice that lets you know about an urgent, limited-time offer just for you? Chances are it's an illegal, automated phone call targeting you for theft. These calls often try to get you to act quickly to not get fined, such as the IRS tax scam. (More on that below.)

Avoid the Scam

If you get an unwanted phone call, don't press buttons to request to speak to someone or be taken off the call list. If you do, the system could identify you as a target that's willing to engage – which could lead to more robocalls.

Also: if you receive a random text message from a number you don't recognize, don't text back or click on links. Report it to your provider at 7726 (SPAM) and to the FTC, or call 1-888-382-1222. Learn more about text message spam.

Tax Scams

What Are They? 

This form of scam often includes phishing emails and aggressive, often threatening phone calls made by criminals impersonating IRS agents. Fraudsters may demand payment of a bogus tax bill and may even know all or part of your Social Security number. Ultimately, these scams can allow fraudsters to steal your identity.

Warning Signs

To prevent tax identity theft, the IRS recommends being wary of any notice that states:

  • More than one tax return was filed using your SSN.
  • You owe additional tax, you've had a tax refund offset, or you have had collection actions taken against you for past unfiled tax returns.
  • IRS records indicate you received wages from an employer unknown to you.
  • You're being told to act quickly to avoid additional fines.

Avoid the Scam 

The IRS will never call or email asking for money or personal information. Typically, they'll send a letter in the mail to reach a taxpayer. If you get a call or email claiming to be from the IRS, don't reply or click on any links. Instead, report it to the IRS.

Also, ensure past tax forms are kept safe and secure. Shred any you no longer need – it is recommended you maintain IRS records for at least 7 years. Don't have a shredding device? BECU offers bi-annual free shredding events. 

If you suspect someone used your Social Security number for filing a tax refund or starting a new job—or the IRS sends you a letter or notice indicating a problem—take these steps immediately: 

  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338 or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
  • Contact one of the three major credit agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit records: Experian 1-888-397-3742, TransUnion  1-800-680-7289, Equifax  1-888-766-0008,
  • Contact your financial institutions, and close any tampered accounts, or accounts opened without your permission.
  • Respond immediately to any IRS notice: call the number provided. If instructed, go to the Identity Verification Service
  • Complete IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit; print, then mail or fax according to instructions.
  • Continue to pay your taxes and file your tax return, even if you have to do so by paper. 

Click here to learn more about tax fraud and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

Elder Financial Abuse

What is it?

This scam involves the illegal or improper use of an elderly person's funds, property or resources, often perpetrated by family members, caretakers and other trusted allies. Scams include forging the older person's signature and using deception or coercion to get the elder to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney.

Avoid the Scam

Look for indicators that abuse has occurred, including unexplained bank account activity, new “best friends,” or belongings that have suddenly gone missing. 

Emails from Abroad

What are they?

So-called “Nigerian” email scams in which a self-proclaimed government official claims he has millions of dollars and wants to transfer it all to you. He just needs your bank account information first.

Avoid the Scam

If you get an email from a stranger asking for money, delete it. Depending on your email provider, you can also first flag it as SPAM, junk or phishing email.

Timeshare Resale Scam

What is it?

In this scheme, con artists claim to have a buyer interested in purchasing a victim's timeshare unit. After negotiating a sales price and signing a contract, the victim is told they must provide payment to cover closing costs. After that, the scammer disappears.

Avoid the Scam

Never pay upfront fees to someone unfamiliar to you, regardless of what their email says.

Advance Fee Loans

What is it? 

Advance fee loan scams involve telling loan applicants they can get a loan regardless of their credit history. These criminals may ask for the victim's bank account information or social security number. They may also ask the victim to wire money or send a check in order to get the loan.

Avoid the Scam 

Legitimate lenders never guarantee a loan or a credit card before an applicant applies. Also, never pay upfront fees to someone promising a loan over the phone.

No matter how tempting the deal sounds, or how urgent the call-to-action is, stop and think before you share your personal or financial information on the phone or through email. If it feels suspicious, hang up or delete the email immediately.

Here Are Some Additional Ways to Protect Yourself:

National Do Not Call List 

Avoid phone scams by registering your home and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry

Report Telephone Fraud 

If you believe you've been a victim of a telephone scam or telemarketing fraud, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call them at 1-888-382-1222.

Department of Financial Institutions of Washington State 

If you suspect financial fraud, report it to DFI or call them at 1.877.RING DFI.

Report IRS phishing and online scams

Helpful Resources

Secrets to a Great Password

How Not to Get Hacked

5 Immediate Steps to Take if Your Identity is Stolen