Watch Out for These Devious Banking Scams (2024)

You know you shouldn’t send money to a Nigerian prince online. But scammers have plenty of other schemes up their sleeves, and they’re not all so easy to spot.

Last year alone, consumers lost $10 billion to fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission. You can avoid joining their ranks by knowing scammers’ playbooks and taking some simple precautions to keep your information safe. Read on to learn how to spot common bank scams and protect your money.

10 common banking scams

You can stay one step ahead of fraudsters by knowing the schemes they like to employ.

Check-cashing scams

You receive a check with a request to deposit it and return a portion of the money to the sender. The check may clear, but by the time your bank realizes it’s fake, you’ve already sent real money from your bank account to the scammer. If a potential “employer,” secret shopping company or other source asks you to send money from a check they’ve given you, rip up the check and ignore the request.

Check-washing scams

Criminals can steal envelopes containing checks from the mail, use chemicals to wash the check and change the payee or dollar amount. To protect yourself from this scam, use checks with security features, never leave check fields blank, don’t let mail sit in your mailbox and write checks with black gel ink -- it’s harder to wash off.

Phishing scams

In a phishing scam, you receive a text or email from a source that looks real -- such as your bank or utility company -- asking you to update your information. If you share your details, criminals can take over your account. Never click a link on an unsolicited message. Call your bank’s official customer service line to verify the request.

Automatic withdrawal scams

You receive a surprise message or phone call saying you’ve won a prize. All you need to do is provide your bank account and routing number to receive the money. Once they have this, the scammer can initiate a recurring automatic withdrawal, costing you a lot more than the disappointment of realizing there’s no prize.

Tip

You’ve likely heard it before, but it bears repeating: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Advance fee fraud

This scam asks you to pay a fee upfront, promising you’ll get money or services in exchange. In some cases, these scams are easy to spot -- think, the classic “Nigerian prince” scheme -- but others are more sophisticated.

For example, if you’re struggling with debt, you might be tempted by a company offering to help you get back on track for a fee. Don’t let scammers prey on your distress. There are plenty of legitimate ways to get out of credit card debt, including contacting reputable not-for-profit debt counseling services.

Fake bank websites and apps

Scammers can easily set up a fake website or app that looks like a real bank’s to trick you into providing personal information or sending money. Before you click any links, verify that the URL is actually your bank’s or credit union’s. The FDIC’s BankFind is an easy way to check. When installing a mobile banking app on your phone or tablet, make sure you’re downloading it directly from the Apple Store or Google Play Store.

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Government imposter scams

A government agency like the IRS and the Social Security Administration typically only contacts you via physical mail. If you get a phone call or text message from someone claiming to be a government official, don’t respond or give them any information -- even if the communication looks real at first. Scammers can easily spoof legitimate phone numbers.

Job scams

Legitimate job postings won’t request your banking information or ask you to pay for products and services to get started. Before you apply for a job, look up the company’s name with the Better Business Bureau to make sure you’re not about to fall into a trap.

Charity scams

Scammers want to take advantage of your kindness, especially when a disaster like an earthquake or hurricane strikes. Instead of responding to an unsolicited request for donations, do your own research to find a legitimate local organization and ensure your money will actually go to the cause.

Tip

If you’re not sure how to donate to a cause you care about, contact a nationally recognized operation such as the Red Cross or Feeding America.

Identify theft

Identity theft comes in many forms, from scammers going on a spending spree with your debit card information to using your Social Security number to open a bank account in your name. The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to regularly review your credit report and account statements and contact the bank immediately if you see anything suspicious. You can also sign up for an identity theft protection service for added peace of mind.

How to avoid bank account scams

While bank scams can be sneaky, there are some simple steps you can take to steer clear of them.

  • Know the red flags. Be wary of unsolicited communications, requests that create a false sense of urgency and offers that appear too good to be true. If it seems suspicious, it probably is.
  • Don’t give out your personal information. Keep your private information private, from your account numbers to your login credentials. That includes shredding any documents containing sensitive information before disposing of them.
  • Create strong passwords. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters to create unique passwords. Avoid identifying information like your house number or birthday. And don’t use the same password for multiple sites or apps. A password manager can help you keep track of your logins across platforms.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication. A scammer might be able to crack your password, but replicating your thumbprint or face is a lot harder. Multi-factor authentication requires these biometrics to access your bank account.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi networks. Don’t do your online or mobile banking on an unprotected Wi-Fi network -- stick to your secure home network.
  • Monitor your bank statements and credit report. Review your account transaction history regularly and pull your credit report throughout the year to spot any suspicious activity.
  • Pull your ChexSystems reports. If you’re worried someone may have opened a bank account in your name, get a copy of your ChexSystems disclosure report and consumer score report to look for any negative marks against your name.
  • Use an identity theft protection service. You’ll need to pay for the best identity theft protection and monitoring services, but it can be well worth it if you can sleep better at night.

What to do if you’ve fallen victim to a banking scam

If you believe you’re a victim of bank fraud, follow these tips to limit the damage.

  • Contact your bank. Immediately contact your bank or credit union to minimize your losses. In most cases, an immediate report will help you lower your potential liability. Don’t stop with one account, though. Take a full inventory of your other financial products, including your credit cards, to ensure these accounts aren’t at risk too.
  • File a complaint. Contact the FTC to log a complaint and receive a recovery plan.
  • File a police report. While the local police won’t be able to do much if a scammer thousands of miles away has your account number, a police report can prove that fraud occurred and you tried to stop it. For example, if someone uses your personal or financial information to launder money, a report can help demonstrate that you weren’t involved.
  • Change your passwords. Update your passwords across all your financial accounts and consider changing them for other services, such as email and social media.
  • Set up fraud and security alerts. In addition to keeping a closer eye on your credit report, consider setting up fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- as additional safeguards. It’s also wise to set up a security alert with ChexSystems, which will automatically notify you of any attempts to open new accounts in your name.

Keep scammers out of your bank accounts

As long as you have money, there’s a criminal who would love to figure out a way to steal it. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to thwart their attempts. By taking some precautions and exercising some healthy skepticism, you can keep your hard-earned money safe and out of scammers’ hands.

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