Tag Archives: fraud prevention

Letter from the CEO: Check Scams

Great news! You just received a letter stating that you won a cash prize- and the check to cover the taxes for the prize is included. Now all you need to do is deposit the check and wire the extra funds back to the sender. When they get the payment, you get the full cash prize.

Sounds too good to be true, right?
That’s because it is.

This is an example of a fake check scam. And, unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that these types of scams are on the rise. If you were to deposit the check and wire the money, you could potentially be out hundreds of dollars–or more. Typically, the money you wired can’t be retrieved, leaving you responsible for reimbursing the funds.

Counterfeit or fake checks are being used in a growing number of schemes. My son was recently targeted in a rather creative way when he answered an online employment ad. He Skyped with someone who said they were an artist and needed an assistant. My son said he researched the person online and he appeared to be legitimate. The “artist” (con artist, maybe?) sent him a cashier’s check for $2,490 to purchase a computer/scanner/etc. and said he’d be in contact. When my son told the “artist” he was going to wait until the check cleared, he was never contacted by him again… and the check bounced two weeks later. If he’d followed through with the scammer’s instructions, he could have been liable for almost $2,500!

Although our staff are always on the lookout for fraudulent checks or unusual activity, they can’t always determine when a check isn’t legitimate. When you deposit a check, we are required by federal law to make the money available long before we can be certain the check is valid. Best advice: if you get a check from an unknown or questionable source, don’t use the funds for at least two weeks.

Here are some other steps the FTC suggests you take to avoid counterfeit check scams:

  • Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.
  • Resist the urge to enter foreign lotteries. It’s illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or the telephone, and most foreign lottery solicitations are phony.
  • Know who you’re dealing with, and never wire money to strangers.
  • If you’re selling something, don’t accept a check for more than the selling price, no matter how tempting the offer or how convincing the story. Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.
  • As a seller, you can suggest an alternative way for the buyer to pay, like an escrow service or online payment service. There may be a charge for an escrow service. If the buyer insists on using a particular escrow or online payment service you’ve never heard of, check it out. Visit its website, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. Call the customer service line. If there isn’t one — or if you call and can’t get answers about the service’s reliability — don’t use the service.
  • If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that’s not possible, call the bank where the check was purchased, and ask if it is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the check or from the person who gave you the check.
  • If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by wire transfer services. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
  • Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.

If you think you or someone you know was the victim of a fake check scam, please consider taking the following steps:

  • Contact your financial institution.
  • Contact your local law enforcement.
  • Contact your state’s attorney general.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint.
  • If you or the victim is an older adult or a person with a disability, contact your local adult protective services agency – you may find local resources via the Eldercare Locator or by calling 1-800-677-1116.

Jim Lumpkin, President/CEO, USACU
Jim Lumpkin
President/CEO
USAgencies Credit Union

Protect Yourself: Tax Scams

It’s tax season. Unfortunately, that also means it’s tax scam season too.

It’s important that you’re aware of the various ways scammers may attempt to steal info and money, so that you can better avoid becoming a victim. The more informed you are about tax scams, the better you’ll be at spotting, and stopping, fraudsters.

What do tax scams look like?

  • The scammer usually presents themselves as an employee of the IRS or State in a call/email to the targeted individual, falsely stating they want to “help” with tax filing.
  • Typically, this type of tax scam involves an unsolicited, bogus email regarding a tax refund or bill, or threatening an audit if the bill is not paid right away.
  • Tax scam emails often look very official, and can link to a phony website – in order to appear to be more legit.

How can you protect yourself against tax scams?

If you get an email regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Don’t reply to the message.
  • Don’t give out personal or financial information.
  • Forward the email to phishing@irs.gov and then delete it.
  • Don’t open attachments or click on links, as they may contain malicious code or viruses.
  • For tax scams involving a state’s filing office, check the office’s website to see how they recommend reporting an attempted attack.

If you get a call regarding federal or state taxes:

  • Ask for a contact number and an employee badge number and then call back to verify its legitimacy.
  • Call the IRS or state tax authority to inquire further and verify the accuracy of the call.
  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Use TIGTA’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page to report the incident.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission through the FTC Complaint Assistant on their website (add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments section).

In general, it’s a best practice to be extremely critical of ANY emails or phone calls you get from someone claiming to be an employee of the IRS or state tax authority, especially those that demand immediate payment. These governing bodies will NEVER:

  • Initiate contact with you by phone, email, text, or through social media outlets to ask for your personal or financial information.
  • Require that you pay your taxes with a certain payment type, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Call you and demand immediate payment. The IRS or State will not call about taxes you owe without first mailing you a bill.


For more in depth information on how to detect or report tax scams, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/tax-scams-consumer-alerts.

For more online security resources from USACU, check out the Security tab on our site.

Tips to Avoid Fraud This Holiday Season

From our friends at NCUA

While the holidays can be a time of celebration, they can also unfortunately be a time of higher rates of fraud. Here’s a list of tips to help you avoid becoming a victim this holiday season:

Stay Protected Online

  • Do not respond to unsolicited spam email.
  • Understand the risks of using unsecured or public wireless networks. If it’s open to the public, it’s possible that your personal information or your computer could be compromised.
  • Be cautious of email claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.
  • When shopping online look for the padlock. Secured websites will have an icon of a locked padlock that appears, typically in the status bar at the bottom of your web browser, or right next to the URL in the address bar, depending on the internet browser you use. Don’t enter your personal or credit card information into a website if that icon isn’t present.
  • Never put your credit card information in an email.
  • Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited email.
  • Always compare the link in the e-mail to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.
  • Log directly onto the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of linking to it from an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the email to verify if the email is genuine.
  • If your members are asked to act quickly, or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get their victims to act quickly.
  • Verify any requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them directly using their main contact information.
  • If you see something, say something. Report possible cybercrime to the FBI through the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Go to https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx.

Package Delivery Scam

  • If you receive an email with the subject line reading “USPS Failed Delivery Notification,” or something similar, do not open it. The emails claim to be from the Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an attempted or intercepted package delivery.
  • Clicking on the link activates a virus, which can steal personal information such as user names, passwords or financial account information. These emails look almost identical to official notifications from the real shippers by using legitimate-looking email addresses and even the official logos.
  • This scam is not limited to the USPS. Similar email and text scams are also circulating that appear to be from other shipping companies such as UPS and FedEx.

Using Public Wi-Fi

  • Using your laptop, tablet or smartphone at Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops, libraries, airports, hotels, universities and other public places is convenient, but often they’re not secure. If you connect to a Wi-Fi network, and send information through websites or mobile apps, it might be accessed by someone else. The bad guys are there too, shopping for your information.
  • One way scammers obtain your information is by putting out a Wi-Fi signal that looks just like a complimentary one. Choose the wrong Wi-Fi and the hacker now sits in the middle and steals your personal or financial information. When you use a Wi-Fi connection in a public place, it is better not to use your credit card.
  • To protect your information when using wireless hotspots, send information only to sites that are fully encrypted, and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information.

Online Gift Card Scams

  • Gift cards purchased through online auction sites are often fraudulent or stolen. The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the merchant or retail store.

Stripped Gift Card Scams

  • You should also be careful when purchasing gift cards at retail stores, as well. Thieves can write down the code or use a device to scan the magnetic strip on the back of gift cards that are available on racks. Every few days, the thief will check the balance and redeem the card’s value online without the gift recipient’s knowledge.
  • When buying a pre-loaded card, always have the cashier scan the card to verify that the full amount is available.
  • Also, check to make sure that the packaging hasn’t been tampered with or damaged. This may be a sign that the gift card has been compromised, or replaced with a stripped gift card. If possible, register gift cards with the retailer for additional protection if it’s lost or stolen.

Charity Scams

  • The holidays are a time of giving. Before giving to a charity, take a look at two websites from the Federal Trade Commission on the warning signs of charity scams:
  • Also, the Internal Revenue Service has a search feature on its website that allows consumers to find legitimate, qualified charities to donate to. To learn more, visit http://go.usa.gov/cZrTF.

 


 

For additional info and resources on keeping your personal information safe, visit USACU.org/fraud

Going Somewhere this Summer? Use your Cards with Confidence

USAgencies Credit Union is looking out for you in the fight against fraud.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans are taking a vacation trip this summer. Whether you plan a white water rafting trip close to home, or a Caribbean cruise, you can use your credit and debit cards with confidence.

As your financial services partner, USAgencies Credit Union is looking out for you. One of the ways we do that is by offering monitoring systems that help you track your card use. You can easily set up email or text alerts to notify you of transactions, deposits and other activity on your account. Report any suspicious activity to us immediately so we can help to protect you and stop the fraud.

We offer the new EMV chip cards. They provide you with an extra layer of security because every time you buy something, the chip card creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again. There are some things you should be aware of when it comes to EMV cards. For example, if the merchant doesn’t have a chip reader then you have to swipe the card. If you are buying something online, of course, there is no chip reader. That’s why we recommend that you monitor your card activity and alerts.

When you travel, remember the convenience of the CO-OP ATM Network which gives you access to thousands of ATMs where you won’t pay a fee.

Unfortunately, thieves can place “skimming” devices on ATMs to steal your card and PIN numbers, so they can make fake cards and steal your money. Look for anything unusual near the speakers and beside the screen. Pull or twist on the device where you insert your card to make sure it’s secure. If it is loose, there may be a skimming device inside. If you find a  skimming device has been attached, don’t use the ATM – call police immediately.

When you’re entering your PIN number, use your other hand to shield the number from anyone who may be watching. Know that your PIN can be stolen in other ways too. There is a heat signature left on non-metal keypads for several minutes after you use it. Infrared cameras installed on Smartphones can be used to measure this heat signature and obtain your PIN. Stop this fraud by resting your fingers on other keys while typing in your PIN.

One of the things we do to prevent fraud is to keep our eyes open for any unusual use of your cards. For example, if you normally only use it locally and all of a sudden charges occur at a European resort, that could indicate suspicious activity. For your protection in that case, we might block further transactions from your card and try to contact you. You can avoid that inconvenience by letting us know when and where you’ll be traveling.

Take your receipts with you—never leave them at the counter or in your shopping bag. They might contain information helpful to thieves.

In case you do have to report fraud or suspicious activity, make a list of cards and account numbers, but keep it in a secure place instead of in your wallet. This list will help to stop fraud as quickly as possible.

If you fear you may have lost your card, but you’re not sure, contact us as soon as possible. We have the ability to put a “soft block” on your card while you look. This ensures that no one could find your card and use it while you look. If you did indeed lose the card, let us know and we’ll block it and issue you a new card number.*

If you suspect your card has been stolen, we are here to help. If you report suspicious activity to us we will stop further use of the impacted card, replace it and issue a new card number at no cost to you.

Don’t get burned this summer; Take these small easy steps to protect yourself from fraudsters… and don’t forget that sunscreen!

 

*There is a fee associated with lost cards.

The Other Sarah & Why You Should Review Your Credit Report Annually

From My Seat : A Blog Series from USAgencies’ Employees

Through my experience working at a credit union for most of my 20s, I’ve had the opportunity to learn financial lessons first hand, via member experiences and my own. I’ve had lessons in everything from building credit, to starting over from a bankruptcy. The biggest lesson I learned was my very first – how important it is to take advantage of checking your credit report annually.

I’ll set the stage: I was 24 years old, a year and half into my job at USAgencies as a teller, and I was still learning banking basics. At that time in my life I had never had a loan and had just one credit card with a small limit. The thought of checking my credit report had never even crossed my mind, seeing I had just the one credit card and I was aware of my limit and balance, which I paid off every month.

One afternoon I received a phone call from Kathy in human resources letting me know that Social Security called to verify my employment status, as they had received an application for a disability claim matching my social security number and name. They had called twice within the last few weeks, and HR told them each time, “No, Sarah is working and currently employed with us at this time.” Kathy suggested I contact Social Security myself to ensure it was cleared up as someone had clearly made a mistake along the way.

When I got off the phone with Kathy I told my co-worker about what as happening, and having been in banking a few years more than me, she suggested I view my credit report just to be safe.

I went to annualcreditreport.com and pulled my credit. There it was….  A collections!!…. an item in collections reporting in my name.  How could this be? I had ONE credit card. I had never been contacted by any agencies asking me for money, and I couldn’t even think of any situation I could have been in that would have resulted in a collection. I started to get nervous, and my mind begin to fill with all the possibilities of what was happening, and the road I had in front of me if this was in fact a case of identity theft.

On the credit report was the contact information for the collection agency so I called them right away. I stated who I was and what I was calling about. They informed me that the collection item was a medical bill from an ER visit up in Spokane, Washington. Not only had I never been in the ER as an adult, I had NEVER been to Spokane. They gave me the hospital’s contact information, I contacted them, and explained the situation. I asked for all the records they had regarding this ER visit. All the hospital needed from me was a faxed request with a copy of my ID and they would send the records to me in the mail in 3-5 business days.

When the packet of information came in the mail I was stunned. There is was in black and white – someone using my FULL name, social security number, and birth date had in fact been admitted to the ER in Spokane, Washington. There was a physical description of this “Sarah Buck” and we couldn’t be more opposite. This was definitely NOT me.

I now was in a panic. Someone had stolen my identity and I had no clue what to do. I needed to dispute this charge, but I also needed to find out what else they were doing with my name! That night, I gathered ALL of the identifying information I had – my social security card, my driver’s license, my passport, my birth certificate – EVERYTHING.

The next morning, I went into the Social Security office, took a number, and waited my turn. When my number was called I went up to the window and explained to the representative my situation, and I needed to know what to do next. She took all of my ID I had brought, and pulled something up on her computer. She then asked me if I had ever been married and changed my name. I said no, never. She explained that there was record of a name change due to “me” getting married. She said given all of the ID I was able to provide, it seems as if I was correct and I may have a case of ID theft on my hands. She went over a few additional items with me, took copies of all my documents, and let me know she opened a case and would be in contact with me within a day or two with next steps.

The very next day I received a call. She said she had good news and bad news. The good news – it WASN’T ID theft. The bad news, it was something much more complicated.

When I was born, on the VERY SAME DAY another girl, in Washington State, was ALSO born. Our parents gave us the same exact name, and we already happened to have parents with the same last name of Buck. When our papers were submitted to Social Security someone assigned us the SAME number. That’s right.  I had shared not only an entire full name with someone else, the very same birthday, and we were assigned the very same SSN. We weren’t even born in the SAME state so how this happened, they had NO Idea. Clearly someone had made a HUGE mistake along the way. What baffled me is how it was able to go on for so long without anyone noticing. I had been working since I was 18, I had filed my taxes every year, I had been enrolled in college, and had a credit card – and nothing!

The SS office informed me that a new number would have to be issued to me to move forward from this very rare situation. A New number?! My parents made me memorize my SSN when I was 10 years old. How was I going to memorize a new one?!

After a few long months of lots of paper work and phone calls, I had a new SSN and all my pertinent contacts had been informed. I even had to speak with the police in Washington because the other Sarah Buck had gone the same path as me, suspected ID theft and filed a police report.

Today I do in fact know my new SSN by heart, and can still even recall the old one. I run into a few issues here and there when needing to verify myself, but I have accepted this will be a lifelong thing and I am ok with it, as long as it is protecting my name.

I now check my credit report every single year to ensure that all the information is mine and accurate.  If this had never happened, I am sure I wouldn’t have started doing this so early in my life, but I now know it’s crucial. Credit is used for many different things from employment and housing to car insurance rates. Check your credit report annually (annualcreditreport.com)! Start early on building your credit on a positive path, and take responsibility for your financial life. It will pay off in the end, trust me!

Sarah, Lending Services

About Sarah:
Without Sarah’s support, the lending department would be smoking, if not in flames. She helps prepare loan for processing, updates materials in the database, handles DMV titling — and that’s all before lunch. This woman does not like leaving the office with anything still in her inbox. As a master of details, Sarah handles her lists like a magical bow and arrow, slaying deadlines preemptively and triumphing over red tape. One of her most gratifying moments came when she worked in Member Service – her radar picked up strange transactions on a member’s account. She was able to initiate processes to protect an elderly member from financial abuse. All this good work can be tiring, leading Sarah to occasionally pause from her labors to spend time with her niece and nephew. They’re pretty cute.

From My Seat is a series of posts written by USAgencies’ employees on a variety of topics. We hope this gives members insight into what we do, why we do it, and provide some financial education along the way. Stay tuned for additional posts in the series in the future.