Updated: Jun 18, 2019
In 2017, the Identity Theft Resource Center reported there were 1,339 recorded data breaches leaving millions of consumers at risk for having their financial accounts compromised. On top of that, the number of credit card skimming operations rose by 10 percent from 2016 to 2017. While these statistics are alarming, there are a number of things you can do to protect your money from unlawful financial scams or fraud. To get started, here are seven tips to help you steer clear of some of common scams:
1. Check for Credit Card Skimmers at ATM Machines & Gas Pumps.
If you’re someone who uses ATMs and a debit or credit card when pumping gas, be sure to check the skimmer and areas around the machine to make sure there are no skimmer attachments or hidden cameras. If the card doesn’t slide smoothly, find another gas station or ATM before you enter your PIN or credit card zip code. Also, choose an ATM machine that gets a lot of foot traffic and is well lighted. When you fill up a car, use the pumps closer to the store entrance because they are more easily seen by customers and the store clerk. Finally, review your checking account regularly to see if there are any unauthorized transactions. Then, be sure to report a loss within two days. If you report a loss within two days, the most you can lose is $50, according to federal law. If you wait up to 60 days, you risk losing up to $500 from your account. Any longer than that and you risk losing your entire account balance. Also, if you suspect fraud at an ATM machine even if there’s not yet evidence, be sure to tell your financial institution and ask for a new card. That way, they can take steps to secure the machine in question and protect others.
2. Never send money to someone you don’t know and haven’t seen face-to-face.
One of the oldest online scams is getting an email from a wealthy foreign prince claiming they have inherited a large amount of money from a relative who recently died. The wealthy prince is asking for your help in transferring millions of dollars from a U.S. account. In return the prince will reward you handsomely. All you have to do is send him $5,000. Don’t do it! Never send money to a total stranger. If you fall for a scam like this and send the money, it will be virtually impossible to reverse the transaction and trace the money. This particular scam popped up in the 1980’s and Americans have lost millions of dollars. Since then, thieves have come up with many other fake scenarios to extract millions of dollars out of unsuspecting citizens. It’s also important to not send money to someone you have only had a relationship with online. There are many fraudsters who pretend to be someone else, build an online relationship with people over long periods of time to build trust and then start asking for money to help with a crisis.
3. Do not share or reveal financial information.
Another common scam is something called phishing. You may receive an email or a call claiming to be a representative from your financial institution, retail store or government agency. They may claim that your account has been compromised and they need your credit card information, your Social Security number or other financial information to fix the problem. If you receive a call or email about fraud on your account, call your financial institution or credit card company directly to check on your account status.
4. Use strong and difficult to crack passwords.
If you are using a password such as “12345” or “mypassword,” then you are putting your financial data at risk. Hackers can easily decipher passwords that are simple number combinations or a pet’s name. The best passwords have at least eight characters and include lower and uppercase letters, numbers and special characters. It’s also a best practice to change your password frequently and use a different password for each account.
5. Do not enter your social security number online.
An email or a website that asks for you Social Security Number is very likely a scam. Never share your Social Security number unless it’s a specific link or website given to you by a financial institution or the government. Also, look for a website with an “s” at the end of the http and a padlock favicon in the URL to indicate it is a secured website.
6. Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in emails.Another common scam is called pharming.
In this scam you might receive an email from a stranger or seemingly legitimate company asking you to click on a hyperlink or attachment that will then ask you to enter financial information. The best thing to do is to immediately delete the email.
7. Donate only to known or legitimate charities.
Scammers will oftentimes create a bogus online charity in order to steal credit card information. If you receive a donation solicitation either by email or a call, do your homework before you make a donation. The best practice is to stick with known charities that are well established.The Last WordAlways be aware that in this digital age, financial scammers are always nearby and waiting for an opportunity to hack your financial data. If you recognize a potential scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1 By following these commonsense tips, you can stay ahead and outsmart even the most wily fraudsters and protect yourself from financial damage