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We put a lot of trust in our banks to keep our finances secure and to have our best interest in mind. They do a lot of work to keep track of our finances and to let us know about suspicious activity on our accounts quickly. In return, we trust them with our money and personal information.
Scammers love to take advantage of your trust by mimicking a bank’s authority to ask about your identity, request money, or offer “financial services” — all with the actual goal of taking your identity, money, or both.
Sometimes they even know what bank or credit union you use. They’ll fake, or spoof, the number they’re calling from to make it look like it’s your bank. So, what can you do to keep your finances and your important data safe from these nefarious characters?
Bank scams are a way for criminals to gain access to personal and financial information by posing as legitimate banking institutions. Hacking requires sophisticated skills and tools to overwhelm the robust protections of a large, secure financial institution. It’s much easier to convince someone, through a call or text, to hand over their information willingly.
It can be difficult to tell whether a call or text is from your bank or a scammer. Scammers know this and will try to use it to their advantage. The signs of a scam are often subtle: For example, it may be something as simple as a misspelled URL or an uncommon question. If you’re getting phishing texts or calls, knowing the tactics that scammers use to steal information — and the things you can do to combat them — is the first line of protection against getting swindled.
Thieves in the digital age are much more savvy than the purse snatchers of yesteryear. Here are some of the most common tricks scammers use to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers:
Easily one of the most popular approaches thieves use, overpayment scams send you a counterfeit check with instructions to deposit it, then wire part of the money back to them.
The bait they use is quick, easy money in return for a simple task, but since the check is fake you have to pay the bank back (plus any money you wired to the scammers).
Unsolicited check fraud
A scammer may send you a real check for a sizable amount in the mail. You could use some extra money to help cover bills or pay for car repairs, so you cash it.
However, by cashing it you authorize the purchase of items or underwriting of a loan in your name. Of course, the amount you owe and terms you agree to will turn out to be much more than the original check amount.
You qualify for a free trial offer or a handsome prize if you set up automatic debits to your bank account. Now, the scammer has a direct line to your funds and can authorize payments until you put a stop to it. Until then, they can all but empty your account.
Phishing scams are calls or texts that look and sound like they’re from a trusted entity when it's actually a scammer. They may ask you to verify your login information, enter your bank account or debit card number, inform you of “suspicious activity,” or request your pin number to “block access” to someone trying to gain access to your account.
Your bank will never request this kind of personal information over the phone. And remember, never give out your pin number as part of a suspicious activity verification.
Credit card rate reduction offers
A common credit card services phone scam, rate reduction scammers contact you about getting significantly lower interest rates on your credit debt… if you pay a fee first.
These scammers will usually couch their offer in outrageous claims that are simply too good to be true. They’ll offer to help you pay off your debt three to five times faster. They’ll also put time pressure on the offer and say it’s only available for a limited time, so act now (urgency is usually a red flag for a scammer).
Remember, amendments to the FTC’s telemarketing sales rule prohibits companies that do sell relief services from charging fees before they settle or reduce your debt.
Bad loan offers
Lenders do a lot of outreach and marketing to get their products and services out in front of customers. However, there are some aspects of a loan solicitation that should raise red flags about the legitimacy of the offer:
Remember, reputable lenders mostly advertise online or through mass media. If you get a cold call, unsolicited mail, or even a door-to-door sales visit, chances are the loan isn’t one you want.
According to the FTC, it’s illegal to offer a loan in the U.S. over the phone and ask you to pay before they deliver.
Consumers are protected by federal, state, and local law against bank scams. Unfortunately, many of those protections are reactive, meaning you'd already be scammed before they’re set in motion.
The best way to protect yourself against scam calls is to not to get the call in the first place. A scam blocker app like RoboKiller can help you by automatically filtering out spam calls from potentially malicious numbers.
If you believe you’re being harassed or scammed, there are a number of legal approaches you can take. Here are some tips from the Consumer Protections for Victims of Financial Scams from the National Consumer Law Center, each depending on your situation:
The Do Not Call List was established to prevent consumers from being pestered by unwanted solicitation calls.
Once added to the registry, the only company that is allowed to talk to you about a sale is a company that you’ve done business with already or given written permission to call. If you tell them not to call you, they have to stop.
While this won’t stop all unwanted calls, it stops sales calls from real companies. It tells telemarketers who to call and who not to call. However, it won’t stop scammers who ignore the Registry and the law.
A robocall is an automated phone call that plays a recorded message. To be legal, robocalls are not allowed to sell something to you unless they have written permission directly from you to call you that way. Abusive robocalls are against the law.
If you receive a robocall that isn’t purely informational (confirming an appointment, prescription reminder) there’s a good chance it’s a scam.
If you get one, don’t press any buttons or talk to a person even if it’s to “opt out.” This may actually lead to more unwanted calls.
Want to know how to stop credit card robocalls completely? Read our blog.
Unauthorized credit use
When a caller gets your personal information, they may be able to authorize credit card issuance and purchases in your name. They’re also committing a serious crime.
If you give away your personal information and it’s used to access your credit, that is a form of identity theft that qualifies as unauthorized credit card use. Often, you won’t be obliged to cover expenses out of pocket, but investigations can take months and hurt your credit reports and scores.
Unauthorized debit card use
Debit cards are useful in everyday life, but they also offer scammers a potential breach point to your bank account.
Popular debit card scams come in a number of forms, from postcards touting a prize giveaway to major credit card offers to someone with a spotty credit history. The scammer will contact the victim over the phone and request bank info, after which they issue a “demand draft” — a payment from your account, to them, that doesn’t require your signature.
Protect yourself! Don’t give out your bank account information to people who call you out of the blue. If you are going to pass your information along over the phone, only provide it when you are absolutely sure the call is from a legitimate company. Companies will not reach out asking for your bank information unless you have expressly agreed to this payment method in the past.
If your account information is used fraudulently, you must report the fraud within 60 days of receiving your bank statement to absolve yourself of responsibility for unauthorized transactions.
Of course, there are occasions where you may want to authorize a debit payment over the phone. If you do this, there are some specific criteria you should be aware of.
A seller or telemarketer is “required by law to obtain your verifiable authorization to obtain payment from your bank account.”
If the seller wishes to take your bank account information for debit purposes over the phone, they must get your express permission in one of three ways:
The seller is required to tell you that money will be taken from your bank account. If consent is given on a taped call, they must disclose information on the amount and date of debit, the recipient’s name or company, the total number of payments, and a contact telephone number.
Bank scammers do a good job of mimicking the texts and calls from real banks. However, they tend to rely on a suite of pushy tactics that should sound an alarm.
Here are some red flags that should tip you off that a call may not be as real as it seems. Stop the call if you’re:
If a “bank representative” contacts you with a request that sounds unreasonable, acts in an aggresive or threatening manner, or requests information using non-secure channels (including the phone or texts), don’t comply.
Bank phone scam examples
Trust your gut. Be 100% sure before you disclose information!
If you’re not sure if the call is real or not, you can tell them you’re busy and that you’ll call back later. Then, call the number for your bank. This is an especially helpful option if you see that the phone number looks real, but they are asking you suspicious questions.
If you think you’ve been affected by a bank fraud scam, call your bank immediately and report it to the FTC.
Here are some helpful links to connect you with more information for your bank or credit card provider:
There are many preventive measures you can take to avoid bank scam calls. Knowing all the red flags can help you avoid falling for a scam, but the best outcome is to not get a scam call in the first place.
In fact, the FTC recommends using a blocker app to scan for and eliminate spam text messages and calls.
Read our blog on how to block spam calls before they happen.
The Do Not Call List
The first line of defense against unwanted calls is the Do Not Call List. It’s free to sign up, and once you’re listed you won’t receive unwanted sales calls from legitimate companies. However, it doesn’t block calls from scammers operating outside the law.
iPhone’s Silence Unknown Callers feature
In recent years, iPhones have added some caller ID and phone blocking features, including options like “Silence Unknown Callers” to quiet any incoming call that isn’t saved to the address book.
Note: This feature will silence all calls from unknown numbers, so you may miss appointment updates, calls from school or work numbers, mechanics, etc.
How to enable Silence Unknown Callers on your iPhone
Once enabled, calls from unknown numbers will not ring when they call.
Provider-enabled call blocking and labeling
Your landline or wireless phone provider may offer automatic call blocking and call labeling services. Some are free but some may charge a fee.
You shouldn’t have to receive any calls you don't want. Fortunately, there’s an easy option for blocking scam calls and unwanted text messages.
RoboKiller is the only call blocker app that blocks spam calls and text messages using AI and machine learning.
Instead of just using consumer feedback or caller ID, RoboKiller identifies the caller or texter behind the message. Untrustworthy numbers are added to a global blocklist of spam numbers, which is updated daily. That makes RoboKiller 99% effective at stopping unwanted messages.
How to stop getting spam texts
More scams are taking place via text message as thieves gain access to sophisticated software for spamming hundreds or thousands of numbers at once.
RoboKiller uses machine learning to analyze the metadata of a text to look for common characteristics of spam texts. It will automatically anonymize and remove identifiable information like your name and number, and then determine whether or not to block it. Numbers are cross-referenced against a database of untrustworthy texters to monitor for illegal activity. Never ask, “Why am I getting spam texts?” again.
Easy blocking and unblocking
RoboKiller also makes unblocking numbers that are incorrectly blocked easy. Your “allow list” will bypass the blocking feature to let you receive calls and texts when our robots make a mistake — that way, you have the power to get the calls you want, and none of the ones you dont't.