Top Financial Scams

Top Financial Scams and How to Avoid Them

In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports. People reported losing money in 25% of those incidents, totaling $1.48 billion in losses. 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.

If you believe your account is showing fraudulent activity, contact us right away at 800-233-2328.


Skimmers are concealed devices planted on ATMs by criminals. These devices are often undetectable at first glance, but swiping or inserting your card into a skimmed ATM can lead to dangerous consequences. The skimming device lets a thief steal the information embedded in your card, whether you're using the ATM 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.

Be aware of your surroundings and 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.

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“Sweetheart” Scams

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.

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.

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Job Scams

Ever seen a job ad on a legitimate site or publication that looks too good to be true? Maybe it offers much higher pay than usual, with little to no experience required, and a start date of ASAP? It's easy to be intrigued by these, but when you apply, be careful – especially if the “employer” insists on conducting an interview through a chat platform only, or if you're required to buy something or deposit a check first.

Legitimate employers will never ask for money upon hiring someone. Even in the digital age we're living in, a phone interview is a generally accepted first step in the hiring process. Research the company carefully before submitting your information, and never fill out a job application that asks for your banking information.

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Copycat Websites

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.

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.

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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.)

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.

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Tax Scams

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.

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.

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:

Learn more about tax fraud and what you can do to protect yourself from it.

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Elder Financial Abuse

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.

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

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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.

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