How well do you think you can spot a scam? While we’d all like to think we’re scam-proof, the numbers tell a different story. This year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed they received fraud reports from more than 2.8 million consumers in 2021. Imposter and shopping scams were the most common types of fraud reported. "Reported" is the key word here. The actual number of fraud victims is likely much higher.
Whether you’re banking online, paying with a cash app, or using any other online accounts or apps, following the five rules below can help prevent you from getting scammed.
1. Never pay a stranger.
Believe it or not, this rule is broken all too often. Only make payments to trusted family members, friends, or merchants you’ve just bought a product or service from face-to-face (for example, paying for something at a food truck or paying your hair stylist). If you don’t know someone, do not transfer funds to them—even if they tell you they’re an IRS agent, a tech-support representative who needs to fix something on your computer, a friend of a loved one, or that you’ve won a prize and need to pay processing fees to receive it.
2. Never disclose your login credentials—even to your financial institution.
Your login credentials are for you only. Never verify or tell anyone else your username, password, or the answers to your security questions. In many cases where login information is given out, scammers pretend to be someone the victim will trust. If you receive a call, text message, or email claiming to be from your bank or credit union, remember this: Your real financial institution will never ask for your login credentials.
3. Never reveal your access codes.
Access codes can certainly be an effective way to prevent unauthorized logins. But there’s a surprisingly easy way for scammers can get around this hurdle: by simply asking you for the code.
In case you’ve forgotten or aren’t familiar with access codes, here’s a quick review. Access codes or “security codes” are temporary codes that get emailed or texted to you when you’ve forgotten your login credentials. They add a layer of protection beyond your username and password. In order for an access code to be effective, it has to be sent to either an email or phone number that only you have in your possession. That way, a bad actor can’t log into your account, even if they know your username and password.
Anytime someone is trying to persuade or "help" you to log in to your account, it should be a red flag. If they ask for you to give them an access code, there's a good chance you're being scammed.
4. Got a bad feeling? Hang up.
Through a process called “spoofing,” scammers can make it look like incoming calls are coming from a person or place you recognize, such as your financial institution. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should always assume the worst when you get a call from your bank or credit union. But if the person on the other end of the line starts asking you to divulge information like your login credentials, access codes or card numbers, play it safe. Hang up the phone, look up the number for your financial institution, and call them to see if they've really been trying to contact you.
5. Be wary of clicking on links.
If you receive a link in a text or email, think twice before clicking on it. It could take you to a fake website or cause malicious software to be downloaded onto your computer or device. Even emails and text messages can be made to look like they’re from someone you know. If you’re unsure how safe a link is to click on, ask the person who sent it if the link really came from them.
When it comes to scams, the last line of defense will often be you. While usernames, passwords, and access codes are designed to keep you safe from fraud, they won’t be effective if you follow a scammer’s instructions or volunteer your private information. Following the guidelines above can help keep you safe from scams.