5 common types of bank account fraud and how to protect yourself
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Today’s consumers have more and more options for paying bills, depositing checks, sending money to friends and family and performing other banking transactions. But each new method comes with new ways for fraudsters to deplete your bank account.
Having your bank account raided by scammers can devastate your ability to pay your bills and everyday expenses. Luckily, for each common type of bank fraud, there are ways to keep your accounts safe and secure.
1. Check fraud
This type of fraud involves illegal attempts to obtain money through checks. Although Americans use fewer paper checks than they did in previous decades, they still write an average of three checks each month, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. That’s plenty of opportunity for fraud involving paper checks.
- Creating fake checks.
- Check washing: Replacing the original information on a check with new information.
- Check kiting: Writing a check for an amount greater than what’s in the account and depositing it at another bank.
- Forgery: Signing and using a check without permission.
Ways you can do to help protect yourself from check fraud include:
Investigate suspicious checks: If you receive a check that you suspect could be fraudulent, reach out to the bank that issued the check to confirm it’s legitimate before you attempt to deposit it into your bank account.
Avoid overpayment scams: Some check scams involve the writer of the check issuing it for too much money — essentially making an overpayment — and then asking you to send them back the extra amount. Once you’ve done this, you may find out the check bounced, so you’ve been scammed out of whatever amount you sent.
Don’t pay for a prize: Fraudsters may try to convince you that you’ve won a prize and need to send some funds to cover processing costs. After sending a check, you’ll eventually realize there is no prize on the way. Never write a check (or send money in other forms) to someone you don’t know or feel suspicious about.
What to do if you’re a victim of check fraud
- Report it to your bank. This is especially helpful if you suspect a check is fraudulent before the bank catches it — the bank may be able to put a stop payment on the check.
- File a police report. Your bank may require you to do so before reimbursing you for any lost funds.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Once you do, the FTC will provide next steps you can take to protect yourself. It also shares reports with law enforcement agencies to help with investigations.
2. Peer-to-peer payment scams
Peer-to-peer (P2P) payments are those made between people using services such as Zelle, Venmo, Paypal and Cash App. When you send a payment to a friend or relative through a P2P provider’s website or mobile app, the money typically goes straight from your checking account to the other person’s.
It’s important to be aware of common types of scams involving P2P services, according to Jason Zirkle, training director with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
“Most are impersonation scams, where the scammer pretends to be a representative from your bank (or a government agent, or a utility provider, etc.) asking you to send money,” Zirkle says. “They will often use spoofing services to trick your caller ID into showing that the call actually is from your bank, so do not trust caller ID.”
Fraudsters may also request you send money to yourself through an app such as Zelle, Zirkle adds. “Scammers will try to convince you that this is the only way to ‘reverse’ a fraudulent transaction, but in the end, you’re sending money to the scammer.”
What to do if you’re a victim of P2P fraud
There’s a good chance you won’t be able to recover money stolen through P2P fraud, Zirkle says.
“The quicker you accept that, the quicker you can move forward,” he says.
Zirkle advises attempting to get the funds back with these steps:
- Notify your bank and ask how to file a claim to try and get your money back.
- File a report with your local law enforcement. While the police might not investigate the theft, having an official report may assist with problems such as credit disputes.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit. This can make it more difficult for someone to open a new credit account in your name. You can set up a fraud alert by contacting any of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax), according to the FTC.
- Report the scam to the FTC. Once you submit your report, the FTC will provide tips on what to do next.
3. ATM skimming
Thieves use ATM skimming to people’s credit and debit card information by installing hidden recording devices on ATMs. Skimming is also possible at payment terminals like those at gas stations.
Thieves can install a plastic overlay atop the keypad to capture your PIN as you type it. Similarly, an overlay installed over the card insertion slot lets them obtain the data on the card’s magnetic stripe.
Once scammers obtain your card number and PIN, they may use the information to create fake cards, withdraw your money or make online purchases. Scammers also sell stolen card numbers to criminal groups for fraudulent use.
Ways you can help avoid ATM skimming include:
- Opting for cardless ATM transactions.
- Avoiding ATMs and payment terminals that appear damaged or have loose parts.
- Paying attention to whether the machine’s card reader appears bulkier than usual.
What to do if you’re a victim of ATM skimming
The sooner you notice and report skimming activity on your account, the sooner you can stop it. Be sure to log in to your bank accounts regularly to view your balance and recent transactions. Take note of anything you don’t recognize.
If you find any transactions you believe are fraudulent, report them to the bank immediately. Quick action may limit your liability for unauthorized transactions.
Phishing scams are cyberattacks that involve tricking the victim into sharing login credentials or other sensitive information. Scammers may insert malware into a text or an email, allowing them to steal your information if you click a link or download an attachment.
Phishing messages are usually designed to look like they’re coming from someone you trust, such as your bank or another service provider.
“Be aware of phishing messages, calls and emails that look like they’re from your bank,” says Zirkle. “Never click links in emails or text messages. If you have questions about whether or not the email/call/text is legitimate, call the bank phone number on the back of your debit card.”
What to do if you’re a victim of a phishing scam
The FTC advises taking these steps if you’ve been a victim of a phishing scheme:
- If you believe the scammer has obtained your social security number, report the identity theft to the FTC. The FTC will provide a recovery plan that includes how to monitor your credit.
- If you’ve given up a password, create a brand new, strong password. Choose one with at least 12 characters and avoid common words or phrases. If you used the stolen password for more than one account, change it for those accounts too.
- If a scammer has remote access to your computer, run a scan using your computer’s security software and remove anything it flags as a problem.
- If a fraudster has taken over your mobile phone number and account, reach out to your service provider to regain access. Then, change your account’s password.
5. Wire transfer scams
Scammers often request wire transfers because it can be difficult for victims to recover the money they send. Common wire transfer scams include:
- Family emergency scams: You may receive a call or text from someone pretending to be a friend or relative and asking you to wire money for anything from paying a hospital bill to bail.
- Dating app scams: Fraudsters may build relationships and cultivate trust on popular dating apps. Then they’ll invent stories about why their victims should loan or gift them money.
- Classified ad schemes: Scammers may post classified ads purportedly selling items and request you pay them through a wire transfer — with no intention of providing you with the item you paid for.
Never wire money to anyone you haven’t met in person, who pressures you to send money immediately or who says your only payment option is a wire transfer. Likewise, do not wire money to anyone who claims to work for a government agency such as the IRS or Social Security Administration.
What to do if you’re a victim of a wire transfer scam
- If you wired the funds through your bank, contact the bank to report what happened. Ask about reversing the wire transfer so you can recover the money.
- If you wired the funds through a provider such as Western Union or MoneyGram, contact the provider directly and tell them it was a fraudulent transfer. Ask if the transfer can be reversed and your money returned.
- Report the fraud to the FTC, which may provide next steps to take and share the report with law enforcement partners.
Financial safety by state
Your likelihood of being a victim of financial crime may depend on where you live in the U.S., according to a study by marketing agency TOP. The study measured each state’s per-capita rate of financial crimes, including credit card fraud, extortion, identity theft, investment crimes and personal data breaches.
The study identified Nevada as the state where you’re most likely to be a victim of financial crimes. The 10 states with the highest rates of financial crime, in descending order, are:
- New York
The study identified South Dakota as the state where you’re least likely to be a victim of financial crime. The 10 states with the lowest financial crime rates, in ascending order, are:
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
Bank account fraud can happen no matter where you live, so it’s important to protect your money by being aware of common scams. Vigilance and precautions can help keep your bank account safe and secure.
If you lose money through check fraud, peer-to-peer payment scams, ATM skimming or phishing schemes, know you have recourse to minimize the damage and try and regain your funds.