U.S. consumers reported losing $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021, a 70% increase over the prior year. Even Stanford FCU’s smart, well-educated members are falling victim to fraud on a regular basis. It’s important to stay continually alert to the many ways criminals try to access your personal information and accounts. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, these are the 13 most common scams.
Caller I.D. can be faked, and you should never give personal information, account login names and passwords, or money to anyone who calls claiming to be the police, a government agency like the IRS, or even your bank. Many Stanford FCU members have fallen victim to criminals impersonating us. Always hang up and contact the company directly.
Beware of meeting people online and sharing personal information like bank account and credit card numbers. Scammers take advantage of trusting people with open hearts, and it’s quite difficult to really get to know someone online or within a few months—especially if they ask for money. It’s heartbreaking in multiple ways, as Stanford FCU members have lost thousands of dollars through romance scams.
Wire or money transfer fraud
Never transfer money to someone you don’t know. Wire transfers, gift cards, Pay A Friend/Zelle® are the main ways that criminals steal money, so they should always be a red flag warning. Once funds are sent through these channels, there’s no way to get your money back.
Don’t ever accept a check for more than the requested amount if you’re selling something. Fraudsters find an excuse to write a check for a higher amount and will ask you to send back the difference. The check later bounces, and the money that was sent in good faith is lost. Many Stanford FCU student members have fallen victim while buying and selling on Craigslist, OfferUp and similar websites.
Be wary of social media posts and unsolicited telephone calls, and always verify that a charity is legitimate before making a donation. Fraudsters can pose as real charities or make up the name of a charity that sounds real. Verify the charity is legitimate with some online research and a phone call.
Debt collection scams
Never provide personal financial information until you verify that it’s a legitimate debt and debt collector. Thieves may try to get you to pay for debts you don’t owe or already paid.
Debt settlement and debt relief scams
Don’t pay upfront fees to any company that guarantees they can settle or eliminate your debts. There are free and non-profit credit counseling programs that can help you work with your creditors. Do a little online research to find a local service. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Foreclosure relief or mortgage loan modification scams
Beware of companies that offer to save you from foreclosure if you’re struggling to make your mortgage payments. Work with your lender first, then contact a housing counselor at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for trusted advice if needed.
Scammers are most successful when you’re emotional and feeling pressure to act fast without thinking. They may imitate a grandchild or other relative claiming to need money or gift cards because they’re in trouble. Try to contact the relative or someone else who may know the relative’s whereabouts before sending money.
Lottery or prize scams
Never provide personal or financial information if you get a call or email that you’ve won a prize. Scammers will claim that you need to pay an upfront fee and/or taxes before receiving the prize, or they may want your account information to deposit the money or even your Social Security Number for tax purposes. The latter is likely true, which is why you need to triple verify.
Just as caller I.D. can be faked, so can official-looking letters notifying you that you’ve won a prize. Never trust these letters, especially if they ask you to send money or personal information upfront in order to collect your prize, winnings or vacation. Always take time to research and verify the source.
Money mule scams
Money mules transport money to help criminals. Mules are recruited by a social post or online job promising easy money, or by an online love interest as part of a romance scam. Never send or receive money or packages for people you haven’t met in person and don’t know really well.
Mortgage closing scams
Home buyers know that as they approach the final steps of the loan process, they’ll need to pay the closing costs and down payment. Criminals can send an email posing as the lender, escrow officer or real estate agent to provide instructions on where to send the funds. Take extra steps to confirm the legitimate payment instructions because wire transfers are not retrievable.
If you or someone you know is a victim of fraud or a scam, contact the local police or sheriff’s department, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and report it to your state attorney general.