November 22, 2017

Cyber attacks on consumers are an ongoing concern that a great deal of time and sophisticated technology is being directed towards preventing. However, there are many more—and much more personal—ways that you can be the victim of fraud. Frauds and scams are more and more common, and it is prudent to stay informed of some of strategies criminals use when trying to deceive you. Information is often the best deterrent to preventing yourself from being a victim of financial fraud.

Online Shopping
Be extremely wary of any “too good to be true” deals being offered for sale online. Some scammers will sell a product for a staggeringly low amount just so they can get you to enter your credit card information, which they then steal. You might not even get the item you paid for during these scams. Always be on the lookout for a company’s privacy policy, signs of secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption (like a lock in the address bar) and other indicators that your information is protected. You can also err on the side of caution and only use trusted, reputable sites for online transactions. If a seller is only willing to accept your credit card and won’t offer an option for something like PayPal, start getting suspicious.

Traveling Abroad
Unscrupulous merchants as well as card skimmers, who steal the information of credit or debit cards, can be more common in other countries than they are at home. While the most direct solution would be to not take your debit or credit cards with you abroad, this can leave you without quick recourse if you find yourself needing funds. Consequently, there are some tips you can employ to keep your information safer.

First, check the slot where you put your card into an ATM or similar machine. Skimmers can be fitted around the slot but will often appear larger than the real slot, may have signs of being glued on, be loose, or otherwise not “fit” with the rest of the machine. ATMs at banks are also less likely to have skimmers on them than ones on the street or in stores, so you should err on the side of using banks for withdrawals when possible. You can see a video of someone finding and removing a skimmer:

When buying items, lean towards using a credit card over debit. Card companies don’t hold you responsible and will contest fraudulent payments, whereas stolen debit information can result in immediate and difficult-to-reclaim losses.

Identity Theft
There are an exhaustingly large number of ways that scammers will try and steal your identity, but one of the most common methods is “phishing.” A phishing scam involves sending out official-looking emails from your bank, a business you frequent, or some other institution of which you are a member. The email may have a special offer, alert you to fraudulent activity, or say you have been suspected of something and will suffer imminent consequences unless you take action. The email will then direct you to a link or attachment that will produce a legitimate-looking web page asking you for your banking information, account information, or other form of personal information. The site is a fake, and even if the link itself doesn’t implant malware, any information you enter into the site will be stolen by identity thieves.

Protecting yourself from phishing is relatively simple. Never open attachments from unsolicited emails, and if you receive communications from your bank or some other authority prompting you to click on a link, don’t. If you are unsure whether an email is legitimate or not, access the web site through your normal methods rather than using the link, or call your bank to confirm the email’s legitimacy. Phishing emails can look surprisingly legitimate, so don’t take how “official” something seems as an indicator of its authenticity.

Charity Scams
One of the lowest forms of fraud is the solicitation of donations for charities that only serve as money-making enterprises for the recipient. Charity scams tend to pop up most frequently in the wake of high-profile disasters or tragedies and will try and pressure you to donate immediately to help the victims. While these pleas can be emotionally powerful, it’s important to stay skeptical. First, look up the charity with the Better Business Bureau to see if it has any complaints of fraud against it. You should also take steps to verify the name of the group to make sure it’s a charity that actually exists. Lastly, do not donate in cash. Check or credit card payments are more easily contested and reversed if you later discover fraud.

The above tips mostly relate to charities with names you don’t recognize, but prudence is still needed when being solicited by established groups. As mentioned above about phishing, official-looking emails can be fabricated. If you do wish to donate to a known organization, do so directly through its web site and do not click on any links in an email. For instance, if you get a solicitation for the Red Cross, going to the group’s web page through a Google search and donating that way is going to be safer than clicking on anything in the email.

Housing Scams
These are also known as “rental scams” and often target students or recent graduates; but anyone searching for an apartment or home can fall victim. There are a few different forms that housing scams can take. A common one is that the property being offered will not be in the condition it was promised and the scammer may end up charging you for pre-existing damage or repair needs or they could use the damage as an excuse not to return the security deposit. Another approach is that legitimate listings will be copied by the scammer and they will freely offer and sell it to as many people as possible before getting discovered. Housing scams are more likely to be encountered on online sites like Craigslist or Airbnb but can still arise in other situations.

Regardless of where it is found, you can protect yourself from housing scams by not taking anything in the ad at face value. Always try and visit the property yourself and document its condition, ideally with photos or video, so you have a response in case disputes arise. Read the lease carefully and make sure you understand the terms and conditions, especially those related to maintenance, rent changes, and move-out procedures. When looking at a listing of a property, keep an eye out for red flags like requests for funds to be sent via money wire, a lack of photos, unusually low rent, or excuses why prior inspection isn’t possible. For more information, visit the Better Business Bureau website.

LUSO Federal Credit Union is a not-for-profit, member-owned financial cooperative dedicated to providing members with quality financial services and products. We at LUSO pride ourselves on serving the financial needs of our members and can provide personal credit cards in Ludlow, Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, and Hampden County, Massachusetts.

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