You keep your hard-earned money in the bank, knowing it’s safer and more convenient than stashing cash at home. But then you hear about banking scams—people losing money in their accounts due to phishing or falling victim to tactics that make them give away their money themselves.
You wonder—what can you do to protect your bank account?
Anyone can be a victim of fraud. American consumers lost about $5.8 billion to financial fraud in 2021, with 2.8 million of them filing reports to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Without immediate action, financial fraud cases, such as bank account scams, are often irreversible. Taking precautionary measures is what will keep you safe from these scams.
Scammers can take advantage of you in several ways, but there are still more ways to prevent them.
Did you know that “red flags” aren’t always about people? There are red flags when it comes to targeted messages, emails, and websites, too.
So, stick with us and learn the golden tip on how you can protect yourself against bank scams.
What is a bank account scam?
Bank account scams take many forms, but basically, all these scams have only one goal: to get hold of your bank account and drain your money.
Scammers can get hold of your account in various ways, and more often than not, it involves identity theft.
Once your identity has been compromised, they can pose as you and take control, make changes, and do transactions on your bank account.
What are the most common bank account scams?
Knowing what you’re up against can help you protect yourself against scammers. Here are some of the most common bank scams you should know about:
1. Check-Cashing Scams
Check-cashing scam involves depositing checks. The scammer will approach you outside the bank and ask a “favor” to cash the check out for them because they don’t have an account in that bank.
They will ask you to deposit the check in your account and then withdraw cash from your account.
However, deposited checks won’t be credited until it is cleared, which usually takes a whole day or even several days depending on the bank. The scammer will give off a sense of urgency that makes you give out the cash to them.
When you find out that the check you deposited is fake, the criminal has already run off with your cash.
How to avoid check-cashing scams:
- Don’t engage with random people, especially when you just got out of a bank. If someone approaches you with a check-cashing request, it probably means that you’re targeted.
- Don’t accept requests on cashing out checks from anyone, especially from people you don’t know personally.
Doing someone a favor isn’t bad, but if it’s something like this and money is involved, you shouldn’t recklessly agree.
2. Automatic Debit Scams
Automatic debit scams, or simply “debit scams,” are often done by criminals posing as telemarketers. The scammer will call you and say you’re qualified for a promo or you’ve won a prize.
Then, they’ll ask if you have a checking account. Once you confirm that, they’ll tell you more about their offer to convince you that it’s a real deal.
After explaining everything to you, they’ll ask you to get one of your checks and dictate all the digits below that check. They can make it seem that they need this to check if you’re really qualified on their offer. Others would let you know that they need this information to debit your checking account.
Once the scammer has all your checking account information, they would create a demand draft that is some sort of a check, but it doesn’t need to be signed by you.
Since it all has your information, your bank might assume that you have full consent on this. However, you’re deceived by what it actually is: a scam.
You won’t be informed how much they debited from your account until you receive your bank statement. And by then, the scammer has already gotten your money.
How to avoid automatic debit scams:
- Don’t just give your personal information away to any telemarketers, even if they offer something that sounds like a good deal. GOLDEN TIP: If it feels too good to be true, it probably is.
- Always ask why you need to give away your information. If the explanation is too vague, they most probably try to scam you. A legitimate offer is always presented with complete details and often needs your verbal confirmation that you’ve understood what you’re agreeing to.
- Legitimate offers won’t ask for any of your information until you completely agree with their offer. So, if someone is eager to have your information, even if you haven’t agreed to anything, take it as a red flag.
- If you’re being hooked by a “prize,” recall if you joined anything recently. If not, then it’s probably a scam. If it’s because you have an account on something, verify if the raffle event really exists.
- Ask for more details, especially if you’re about to be debited. If you’re willing to be debited, and you think the offer is legitimate, you can always ask the following:
- How much is going to be debited?
- Who will receive your money – is it an organization or a person?
- How many payments is it going to be?
- Where can I call if I have additional questions?
If you’re satisfied with the information you’re getting, it could be an actual, legitimate offer. But don’t forget to be cautious even if the offer really sounds good. If you’re having doubts, it’s better to decline than fall victim to this type of scam.
Phishing is common nowadays because of technology. Since most bank transactions are done online, scam methods have also evolved, and criminals are finding creative ways to get consumers’ bank information.
Phishing often happens through text messages and emails where scammers get to make you provide personal information that they can use to access your email and your bank accounts.
According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, social engineering techniques are used to lure unsuspecting consumers into giving out their information, often through a link that would direct them to fraudulent websites.
These fraudulent websites appear legitimate and would ask you for your account information like username and password. Since the site is fraudulent, the server is unsecured and will steal your account information.
Phishing emails or messages often pose as:
- A promo or coupon where you need to log in to redeem your prize
- A notification saying that your account has been compromised or someone is trying to access your account
- An invoice of a purchase that you didn’t make, which will make you more eager to click on the link to confirm what the purchase was
- A notification that you can get a refund from the government
- A warning message that you need to confirm some of your details because your account will be blocked
These messages are tailored into making you think that you need to take immediate action, and that’s what these phishing sites need to take your information.
Once they get your information, they can access your accounts and make transactions on your behalf.
Worse, you wouldn’t know you’ve fallen victim to a phishing scam until you check your bank account.
How to avoid phishing scams:
- Check the links you’re about to click. You can check by hovering your mouse on the link without clicking it. The URL of the link you’re hovering will appear at the bottom of your browser. If the link starts with http:// instead of https://, the server is unsecured. But another red flag is it’s full of random characters that don’t make sense at all.
- You can also check if the URL matches the information on the email or message you received. For instance, if it came from Wells Fargo, the link should have “https://www.wellsfargo.com” in it. If there’s a slight difference in spelling, like “http://wellsfarg0.co.ti”, then you may suspect that it’s a fraudulent website.
- Don’t use your bank account information on just any website. Only use it on your bank’s official website or app. If you need to make any payment, legitimate websites won’t ask for your bank username and password. They should have an authorized payment channel you can use.
- If you think you have clicked on a phishing website, immediately change your password on your account using the proper channels (website or app). You can also call your bank’s customer support to check if there are recent movements in your account and let them know that it could have been compromised.
- Before taking action in any of your emails or messages, check the legitimacy of the message itself. Did the message come from your bank? What was the number used? What was the email used?
- Set up multi-factor authentication in your bank account. This way, you will get notified if a transaction is being made using your account. These authentication methods include PIN, security key, biometrics (fingerprint or face ID), one-time PIN, and more.
Phishing scams happen if you’re not vigilant about your web browsing and the links you’re clicking. Being watchful of small details can come a long way in protecting your bank account and other personal information.
4. Unsolicited Check Fraud
This bank account scam is when you receive a check for no reason, and when you cash or sign it, it could mean that you’re authorizing something that you didn’t know or ask for.
It could be a purchase of an item, an insurance policy, or even a loan.
These checks may also appear as a rebate or refund of some sort. But signing it could mean you’re signing up for something that you’re going to spend more on than you cash in.
Here is an example from the Consumer Protection Division of an actual note that happens to be at the back of an unsolicited check:
“SIMPLY ENDORSE AND CASH OR DEPOSIT THIS CHECK AT ANY BANK TO AUTOMATICALLY ENROLL IN XXXXXX starting with thirty days free. Unless you call to cancel during this trial, XXXXXX will notify XXXXXXX, the issuer of your XXXXXX credit card, to bill the $9.99 monthly membership fee, or then-current fee, to your credit card each month, without your having to do anything further. You can cancel at any time after the trial period for a full refund of your current month’s paid membership fee. The $2.50 check is yours to keep.”
It’s highly possible that the conditions that come with these unsolicited checks are legally binding. And it’s difficult to opt out of it once you have already “agreed”—in this case, impulsively agreed with the use of persuasive, unsolicited checks.
How to avoid unsolicited check fraud:
If you received a check that you weren’t expecting, carefully inspect it and ask these questions:
- Why did I receive it? Why am I chosen?
- Where did it come from? Who sent this?
- Did I join anything recently to receive this kind of check?
As mentioned, there could be a note at the back that states the terms and conditions that come with signing the check. If it’s something that you didn’t sign up for, DO NOT cash the check.
You shouldn’t sign anything impulsively if you think you’re getting “free money.” This actually applies to any document, not just unsolicited checks. Always read through any document before signing them.
5. Overpayment Scams
Overpayment scams, also known as “check overpayment scams,” happen to people who are selling high-priced items, such as cars, jewelry, and gadgets.
The scammer reaches out to the seller, expressing the intention of buying the items using a check.
Normally, you would want to receive cash payments when selling preloved items. With an overpayment scam, the scammer would lure you into agreeing by offering to write the check amount more than your asking price.
This can make you agree on the payment method because there is some sort of “assurance” from the buyer. However, they will ask you to deposit the excess amount to their bank account after you get the check.
You would feel reassured because you were handed a check. Then, you will find out that the check bounced because it’s a counterfeit.
Not all counterfeit checks can be detected immediately when you deposit it because there is usually a clearance time. By the time you learn that it’s fake, it would be too late.
How to avoid overpayment scams:
- Don’t accept a check even if the buyer proposes to make it more than your asking price—this should raise the red flag immediately.
- It’s better if you stick with a cash-only payment method. If you want to consider other payment methods, use digital wallets where you get the payment in real-time or online payment services other than checks.
- If the seller insists on paying a check (there are still honest people out there), ask for a check from a local bank or a bank with a branch in your area. Verify that the check is legitimate and wait for the money to be reflected on your account before you give the items they purchased.
Again, you should not feel reassured with check payments even though they’ve written more than the amount you’re asking for.
6. Government Imposter Scams
A government imposter contacts you (through phone, email, or SMS) and tells you that you have missed some payments in your Medicare or taxes. They will demand that you pay immediately so you can avoid penalties.
Some of them would also tell you that you have won something. However, you need to pay taxes before you can claim the prize.
How to avoid government imposter scams:
- Ask for more details and verify that you have missed payments. If they can’t provide anything you can verify, then it means they are making it up.
- If they’re asking you to wire your payment, check who would be the recipient. If it’s not a government agency, then it’s likely a scam.
- Always remember that the government has legitimate payment channels if you really need to pay for something. It’s not through an employee or support personnel.
- Verify the contact numbers of the agency mentioned by the caller. If it doesn’t match with the caller, then better hang up.
Government agencies typically use mail to send notifications. They rarely call you or send you an email, especially if you need to send payments.
7. Charity Scams
Some thieves use fake charities to solicit money from people. Just like other legitimate charities, they often get bank details from donors to debit their accounts for the donation.
For instance, UNICEF allows donors to make monthly donations, which means they need bank details.
Fake charities could do that as well. So, make sure that you’re signing up for legitimate charities.
How to avoid charity scams:
- Verify the legitimacy of the charity – check its website and social media platforms.
- Vet the organization through charity watchdogs like Charity Watch and Charity Navigator. They rate charitable institutions and verify them as well.
- Research the charity. Charities are often listed in your local or state charity regulator. If they’re not listed, you should just keep your money.
But don’t let this hinder your kind heart in helping out charitable institutions. Just make sure they are real, so your donation will go to the rightful recipients.
Thieves are everywhere and will do anything to get people’s money, whether you’re rich or not. You need to be cautious with your surroundings all the time—the people you talk to, the messages you receive, the websites you visit, and the documents you’re signing.
Scam artists always succeed when the victim acts rashly. Don’t just act on impulse because that’s what these thieves want you to do. Our tips on how you could avoid these scams can help you stay protected from these criminals.