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Top Financial Scams and How to Avoid Them

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 cybersecurity team assembled a list of scams seen online. Let's take a look at some of the most common ones.

Mirrored Website

What Are They? 

Fraudulent web sites that disguise themselves as a financial page. A mirrored website may try to emulate the look and feel of a bank's webpage, yet one look at the address bar and it's clear that the website is fake. Any information you input with 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. Using a web browser to search? The institution's web address should appear in smaller font below the site's name. Double-check the address. If you have a security program that verifies “official” websites, be sure to click on the websites that they have vetted.

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. For your safety, BECU would never request details from you such as CVV and PIN numbers.

Robocalls and Texts

What Are They?

Illegal, automated phone calls and texts targeting individuals for theft. They often try to get you to act quickly to not get fined or not miss out on a deal.

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 will identify you as a target who's willing to engage – which could lead to more robocalls.

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 1-888-382-1222. Learn more about text message span.

Tax Scams

What Are They?

Phishing emails and aggressive, often threatening phone calls 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 (SSN). Ultimately these scams can allow fraudsters to steal your identity. With access to your SSN, criminals can file a tax return or get a job. 

Warning Signs

To prevent tax identity theft, the IRS recommends being wary of any Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 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 (SSN) for a tax refund or a job—or the IRS sends you a letter or notice indicating a problem—take these steps: 

  • 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: Equifax 1-888-766-0008, Experian 1-888-397-3742, TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
  • 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. 

Learn more

Elder Financial Abuse

What is it?

Illegal or improper use of an older 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” and missing belongings. 

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?

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 promising to sell your timeshare.

Advance Fee Loans

What is it?

Scammers tell 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:

Report IRS phishing and online scams 

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.