Ask the Expert: Tips to Avoid Fraud

Steve Steen, Chief Business Of­ficer at TruStone FinancialAs TruStone Financial’s Chief Business Of­ficer, Steve Steen oversees several departments of the credit union, including retail banking, marketing and facilities. Read on for his review of recent scams to be aware of this holiday season.

TruStone Financial is always vigilant in protecting our members, their money and their information from fraud. Part of this vigilance involves maintaining the highest security we can in our products and systems. Part of it also involves keeping our members informed on how to spot scams and avoid fraud. Here are a few recent scams to be aware of.

Bogus Checks

Be wary if you receive a check in the mail that you weren’t expecting from someone you don’t know. In one popular type of scam, a fraudster will send a fake check, saying it’s a pre-payment for a job or prize money. They’ll come up with a reason you need to return some of the funds and ask you to send a check or wire money. Similarly, some scammers who use this technique prey on people selling items online. They’ll “accidentally” write a check for too much, ask you to deposit it and send them the difference, and disappear as soon as they have the money. The bottom line: when someone gives you a check to deposit and asks you to send some of the money back, it’s a scam.

Past Due Bills

If you get a call from a utility company demanding payment for an overdue bill that you know you paid, that’s a red flag. Don’t give out your bank account information. Instead, call the number the company lists on your paper bill or on their website, or log into your account online and check your payment status. In general, avoid giving your account information on a phone call you didn’t initiate, and be wary of giving personal information to callers you don’t know. Don’t let the caller pressure you into giving information you’re not comfortable sharing; a legitimate company or organization will gladly give you time to verify their claim.

Donations via Gift Cards

Some scammers prey on the good-heartedness of people. The FTC has reported a type of scam where the scammer sends an email pretending to be a religious leader and asks for a donation to a charitable cause. They’ll ask you to buy a gift card and then send them the card information. They then have your money, which will never make it to charity, and there’s little you can do to get it back. The takeaway: if someone asks you to pay for something with a gift card, it’s almost always a scam. Before you donate, search for the charity’s website yourself and use a resource like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to determine if it’s legitimate, and then use the form or address provided through the website to make a donation.

Hopefully these tips will help you stay alert and avoid a scam. But what happens if you have already become a victim of one?

Report it! Know that you are not the only one who has been tricked by this scam, and by reporting it, you can help prevent others from going through the same thing by providing valuable information to authorities. You can report the scam to your local consumer protection agency or, for internet scams, at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If you ever need help ­figuring out if a check, opportunity or request is a scam or legitimate, don’t hesitate to stop into your local TruStone Financial branch.

Editor’s note: parts of this article were sourced from the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Reports.