How to Avoid Banking Scams and Stay Safe Online

Banking scams are more common than you think, especially lately. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 2.1 million fraud reports. Criminals use these types of scams to trick people into giving up their bank account information.

Don’t panic just yet. There are many ways to protect yourself against banking scams and online fraud, and we’re here to help.

What are banking scams?

Banking scams are when fraudsters attempt to access your bank account to take your money or private information. The most common banking scams include:

  • Overpayment scams: When someone sends you a check, asks you to deposit it into your account, and wire part of the money back to them. The check is likely fake, so you’ll end up having to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus what you wired.
  • Unsolicited check fraud: When a scammer sends you an unexpected check, you cash it, and then you’re suddenly authorized for purchases or a loan you didn’t ask for.
  • Automatic withdrawals: When a fraudulent company sets up automatic withdrawals from your account to qualify for a free trial or prize.
  • Phishing: When you receive an email or text asking you to verify your bank account or card number.

How to protect yourself from banking scams

Now that we know what kinds of banking scams are out there, let’s talk about how to prevent them from happening to you. Here are our top tips to follow:

  • Be careful who you cash checks for. Never write a check for someone in exchange for cash, unless you know the person well.
  • Trust your instincts. If something feels off or is too good to be true, it likely is. Always read the fine print with any email or text you receive.
  • Don’t share your personal information. Scammers can easily hack into your account with the right information. Therefore, it’s important to avoid sharing account, Social Security, and credit card information with anyone – unless you know for certain it’s a legitimate request that you initiated with your financial institution.
  • Question unnecessary fees. If you’re sent a prize or job offer that requires an upfront fee, it’s a scam. The same goes for offers from unverified sources that require bank account information to redeem or claim them.
  • Be careful where you send money. This may seem obvious, but do not wire or send money to people or companies you don’t know.

What to do if you’re a victim of a bank scam

If you believe you’re a victim of a scam, contact your bank immediately to stop any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals from your account. You’ll need to report the scam to the proper authorities as well. Your financial institution should most likely offer a way you can file a complaint directly, or be able to provide you with the necessary steps to take. If you received any phishing emails, forward them to the Federal Trade Commission at spam@uce.gov.

At First Financial, we are here to help protect our members from scams and identity theft. If you have any concerns or questions about any of your First Financial accounts, please call member services at 732.312.1500 or visit one of our branches.

 

Preventing Cyber Fraud

Online and mobile fraud have certainly become more commonplace and extra concerning these days. Unfortunately, just a password is no longer enough to protect your important personal information against the threat of a cyber data breach. Keep reading to find out important ways to protect yourself and your personal and financial data online.

  • Set-up multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your various accounts. What is MFA? This is a secondary layer of security used to verify your identity. This means in addition to logging in as normal, you would also receive a confirmation email or text with a temporary code that is typically only valid for a few minutes. This second layer of protection allows the bank account you’re logging into, app, social media platform, or online shopping site (even Amazon has a two-factor authentication option for logging into your account) to verify that it’s really you and not a fraudster. Logging in with a fingerprint or Face ID is also considered an MFA option. Using MFA will allow you to be much less likely to get hacked. The more layers of security protection you have, the better!
  • Be sure your software and OS are up to date. Always make sure your online and mobile security software has been updated. This means any anti-virus programs you’re running, firewalls, your computer, smartphone and tablet operating systems (OS), as well as apps and software. Making sure your devices are up to date means that there are no security holes present or ways to gain access to your secure data. An easy way to be sure this is set-up is to enable automatic device updates, or allow your device to perform the update each time you see a notification. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
  • Beware of suspicious emails, calls, and texts. Even if the message or call appears to be from your financial institution. Also be weary of any links that may appear in emails or texts. Clicking on a fraudulent link can be a phishing or malware scam which enables an online criminal to gain access to your bank accounts and personal data. If you receive a message or call that you are unsure of, hang up and don’t click on any links. Instead, call or stop into your trusted financial institution and ask them if they were in fact trying to contact you. An important note to remember is that a legitimate financial institution, business, or organization will never typically contact you out of nowhere and ask you to reveal any personal or financial information (they already have it).
  • Be careful when using public Wi-Fi. If you are logging into your mobile banking app or any secure accounts (especially ones that have access to credit or debit cards), be sure you are not on public Wi-Fi. This makes it easy for a cyber thief to hack into your device through a shared network. Login to these types of sites at home using your secure password protected network, and if you absolutely must login while on the go – be sure to turn off your device’s Wi-Fi connection first. How to know a browser or network is secure? You’ll see a padlock icon within the corner of the browser. This means that you’re on a safe, encrypted network.
  • Use strong passwords and security questions. When you do need to create a password, make sure it’s a strong one that’s hard to crack. For instance – avoid using common names, words, and phrases. Also refrain from using numbers that are in order (ex: Hello123 is not a secure password), and try to also use special characters or substitute characters for letters/numbers (ex: F$rst!97). When setting up security questions, choose ones that only you would know personally and that would be extremely difficult to guess.
  • Monitor your accounts and set-up notifications. It’s always a good idea to monitor your frequently used and bank accounts on a daily basis. This will allow you to check for any fraudulent transactions or purchases you did not make. Another useful tip is to setup account alerts for your bank accounts – most financial institutions or credit cards will allow you to set-up email or text alerts for purchases, debits over a certain amount, low balance alerts, phone or online transactions, and more. Enabling these notifications will allow you to see instantly when a transaction was made that was not done by you.

As always, if you find any fraudulent transactions or receive any suspicious communications regarding your First Financial account – please contact us right away at 732.312.1500 or by emailing info@firstffcu.com.

Also remember that First Financial will never ask you for online or mobile banking login codes you receive, under any circumstances. We will also not ever ask you to download any remote desktop applications to your device.

You can rest assured that First Financial’s Online Banking and Mobile App are protected with various MFA capabilities. We also have the First Financial Wallet App, where you can keep track of all your First Financial card purchases and receive real time alerts right to your mobile phone.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

How to Avoid Holiday Season Gift Card Scams

It’s the time of year where many scams are prevalent, however lately – gift card scams seem to be popping up and affecting consumers more and more this holiday season. Continue reading to find out how to protect yourself and your finances from this type of fraudulent transaction.

If you ever receive a call, email, or text from someone asking to be paid via a gift card or to buy something by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back of the card – they are attempting to scam you. Before you read any further, know that a legitimate business or government agency will never ask to collect payment via gift card.

Why do fraudsters attempt to collect payment in the form of gift cards? Because they are easy to get, and there are virtually no buyer protections. In other words, it’s basically like using cash. And when the money on the gift card is gone, it’s gone.

How does a gift card scam work?

  • You’ll get a call, email, or text letting you know you’ll need to pay as soon as possible, and that the only way to do so and help is to buy a gift card.
  • The requestor will almost always tell you exactly which gift card to purchase – typically eBay, Google Play, Target, iTunes, and so forth. You might even be asked to purchase the gift card at a specific store, such as Target, Walmart, CVS, or Walgreens. The scammer may ask you to purchase various gift cards at different stores too (this is so the cashier won’t be suspicious).
  • Once purchased, you’ll be asked for the gift card number and PIN. These two items will give the scammer access to all the funds that were loaded onto the card, and once they have that – the money is theirs and they can use it immediately with no way for you to get it back.

If you are thinking the steps listed above are pretty obvious and how could someone actually fall for this type of scam – keep reading.

How scammers convince consumers to purchase gift cards and get away with it:

  • The caller states they are from the government, such as the IRS or Social Security Administration. They’ll tell you that you owe taxes or need to pay a fine, and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The caller says they are with Apple or Microsoft tech support, and that there is something wrong with your device. They’ll also tell you that in order to fix it, you’ll need to go out and purchase a specific related gift card.
  • Online dating sites are another hangout for gift card scammers. If you meet and chat with someone via a dating site or app, and then after they build a connection with you – they tell you they need help and the only way to do so is with a gift card.
  • The scammer spoofs the phone number of a family member or friend close to you, and tells you they’re in trouble and that the only way to help them is to go out and purchase a gift card. If this happens to you, hang up and actually call your relative or friend on your own and ask if they truly need help.
  • You are contacted that you won a prize, however in order to redeem it – you need to pay contest fees with a gift card. This will never happen with a legitimate contest, and – did you ever enter one to begin with?
  • You get a call from your “utility company” threatening to cut off your service unless you pay them with a gift card.
  • Someone contacts you and says you will receive a check in the mail – however it ends up being more than you were told you would be getting. The sender contacts you again and tells you to deposit the check into your bank account, and give them the difference on a gift card. There are two problems here – the gift card payment, and also the check being deposited is typically fake and you may be held liable for that amount by your bank as well.

Here are a few ways to ensure gift cards are used properly and legitimately:

  • Remember that gift cards are for gifts. You should never use a gift card to pay someone.
  • Purchase gift cards at stores you know and trust – don’t buy them online or through a gift card auction site, as they may be fake or stolen.
  • Look the gift card over before you purchase it. Ensure there are protective stickers that have not been tampered with, and make sure the PIN on the back isn’t visible.
  • Keep your receipt after your gift card purchase. This will prove that money was loaded onto the card if you ever need it, as well as the gift card’s ID number will be listed. If you ever lose the gift card, you’ll be able to file a report to close that particular card.

The moral of the story: This holiday season (and any time), be mindful of those who might be trying to scam you into purchasing gift cards. Always remember, legitimate organizations will never ask to be paid in this manner.

THINK First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

 

Article Source: ftc.gov

How to Avoid Purchasing Flooded Cars

Hurricane Ida was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. in recent years, causing much flooding and devastation – especially to our New Jersey area. After an event like this, flooded cars often enter the used car market. These cars may appear to be cleaned up, but flood damage is unpredictable. Issues caused by water hitting vital parts of a car will often leave it too costly to repair.

Keep reading to find out what you can do to avoid getting into this type of bad car sale.

Check the Car’s History

A history report will reveal all the locations from the car’s registration. In most cases, it will also show if it has undergone flood damage in its title report. If there’s no sign from the registration, you should still be wary of cars that come from areas hit by hurricanes recently. There could be a chance that the vehicle tried to bypass regulations. Some car dealers have been known to try this in hopes of cleaning up a vehicle’s record, a practice called title washing.

Inspect the Interior

The interior of a car is where you can spot signs of flood damage. The vehicle may have a moldy smell, and parts of its carpet may be damp – indicating it went through water. You can also lift the carpeting inside the trunk for any sign of rust or sand, which would also show that it went through floodwaters. Rust on the bolts and screws under the seats can also indicate flood damage.

Inspect the Exterior

The car’s exterior will also show signs of corrosion or even subtle thin brown lines across its body. There may also be watermarks on the vehicle, indicating that it’s been through high waters. The undercarriage can additionally reveal signs of flood damage. You’ll usually find excessive rust on flood damaged cars.

Work with a Reputable Car Dealer

A car dealer with a good track record will avoid buying flood damaged cars, as it is not a risk they’re willing to take. Check the dealer’s history and any reviews surrounding the business. If there’s an issue, you’ll likely find a disgruntled buyer who has experienced buying a flood damaged car there.

Hire a Mechanic

Another way to ensure that you don’t get a flooded car is to hire a mechanic to come with you and inspect the vehicle. They’ll easily spot signs of water damage for you and recommend if the car’s worth buying or not. A mechanic has likely worked with flooded cars in the past, so they’ll see the signs – even if the car has been cleaned up. It’s a small price to pay to ensure you’re not buying a damaged vehicle.

Always Exercise Caution

If you suspect that you’re looking at a flood damaged car, take every precaution necessary. Often, you’ll find this type of deal is too good to be true. Take a step back and have it examined by a professional, and check the car’s history. If you have verified that the vehicle you are looking at is in fact a flood damaged car, contact local law enforcement – as selling these types of vehicles is considered fraudulent.

Think First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

Article Sources:

https://www.iii.org/article/flood-cars-how-to-avoid-purchasing-a-washed-up-vehicle

https://www.carprousa.com/blog/10-tips-on-how-to-avoid-flood-damaged-vehicles

https://www.edmunds.com/car-buying/how-to-avoid-buying-a-flood-damaged-car.html

 

Teens are Falling Prey to Online Scams

Did you know that teens are now falling prey to online scams even faster than seniors? Last year, there were over 23,000 online scam complaints from individuals under 21 years old. This suggests that no matter how well-versed you are in technology and the internet, you can still be a victim of online scams. Learn more about these scams and how you can avoid them by reading below.

Common Online Scams Targeting Teens

Reports of online scams have increased by 156% among members of Generation Z. Born in the digital age, teens are more comfortable sharing their whereabouts on various online platforms. However, this can also make you vulnerable to the scams listed below.

Romance Scams

While using various dating apps, you might encounter a romance scammer. They’ll try to build an intimate online relationship with you, but their real goal is to make a hole in your wallet. Usually stationed abroad, they will often refuse meet-ups and video calls. Be on the lookout for these types of scammers and do not send them any money, gift cards, prepaid cards, or the like. If something feels off – it most likely is.

Fake Online Stores

While online shopping can be fun and even therapeutic, you might come across fake e-commerce stores that copy the logos and sites of legitimate businesses. These scammers will usually offer your favorite items at unreasonably low prices. In the end, you’ll get substandard products — or nothing at all.

Employment Scams

There may be various job opportunities online, but not all of them are real. Scammers have been known to post fake, poorly written ads. They’ll also make you pay up front fees for training, which no legitimate employer would ever do. Don’t fall into this trap!

Bogus Online Contests

While you may follow some online influencers, scammers are busy copying these public figures through fraudulent social media accounts. They’ll conduct online contests and giveaways. Once you’re declared a “winner,” they’ll solicit your bank account details or require you to pay a nominal fee to claim the prize. In reality, you won’t get anything — other than a stolen identity.

Avoiding Online Scams: Tips for Teens and Parents

Whether you’re still trying to familiarize yourself with online accounts or already tech-savvy, remember the following tips to avoid online scams:

  • Check various reviews online before purchasing items from a specific store.
  • Choose a strong and unique password for each of your online accounts. Avoid using your nickname, birthdate, or your pet’s name because these can be found easily on other platforms.
  • Never give out your personal and financial details, especially during unexpected calls.
  • Look for misspellings and grammatical mistakes in ads, websites, or emails.
  • Monitor what you or your child share on social media. Scammers may find some information in an online profile which they can then use to commit identity theft.
  • Before making a decision, share it with someone you trust, like parents, friends, and other family members. Doing so will help you figure out if you’re being scammed.
  • Be suspicious of people asking you to pay advance fees through P2P payment apps such as Venmo, Cash App, and Zelle, or through wire transfers and gift or prepaid cards.
  • When using a person-to-person payment app, only send money to someone who you actually know and trust.
  • If possible, don’t use public WiFi because scammers can usually find ways to access sensitive information.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a teen or a senior, you’re not free from the hands of scammers. Be extra careful and combat scammers by following the tips above. Always reach out to us if you suspect any of your First Financial accounts have been compromised due to a scam.

T.H.I.N.K First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!

 

How to Prevent Person-to-Person Payment Scams

Person-to-person (P2P) payment options have certainly made paying back borrowed money to friends and family very convenient. From going out to eat and splitting the tab, to chipping in for a gift, or paying a trusted contact for a service – P2P payment services have made our lives quick and easy. However, if you are a user of a P2P payment service such as Zelle, Square Cash, PayPal, Venmo, Facebook Payments, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, Payzur, and the like – buyer beware.

Continue reading to ensure you know how to spot a P2P payment scam so that you don’t fall victim to this type of fraud. P2P scams are extremely serious, because the victim unfortunately usually is not protected from money lost and fraudulent access to their account(s).

Why are victims of P2P scams usually not protected?

Due to the fact that P2P transactions are consumer initiated, there is not much protection when a fraudulent transaction occurs – because technically the consumer authorized the transaction. Whether it’s the actual consumer or a fraudster who initiated the payment service transfer, there really is no way to prove it. In addition, user error is often not covered either. Most P2P apps have user agreements prior to first time use, where the user agrees when money is sent through the app – any losses are on the user, since they authorized a transaction.

Recently, Zelle’s P2P service added a measure to help prevent users from sending money to the wrong person. Zelle now includes a pop-up warning if a user is trying to send money to someone who is not in their contacts, which makes them think twice before allowing the funds to leave their account.

How does a P2P scam work?

A P2P scam is basically an account takeover scam. Fraudsters will send text messages to an unsuspecting consumer, appearing as if the message is coming from the individual’s financial institution.

  • The text will usually appear to come from the individual’s financial institution (aka: spoofing) and will warn them of suspicious debit card activity.
  • For those who respond to this fraudulent text, the fraudster will call that consumer also spoofing the financial institution’s phone number – and claim they are from the bank’s fraud department and would like to verify a suspicious transaction.
  • The fraudster will then try to get the unsuspecting consumer to verify their identity, and let them know a passcode will be sent via text message – and that the consumer must provide the passcode over the phone.
  • Once the fraudster has that passcode, they’ll attempt a transaction that triggers another two-step authentication passcode (such as forgot password so they can reset the consumer’s password, or they’ll try to initiate a P2P transaction).
  • The fraudster now has access to all of the consumer’s accounts within Online Banking, as well as access to their P2P payment service if one is provided through the bank (such as Zelle) – and will begin using P2P payments to transfer money to themselves.

And unfortunately, there is not much that can be done once this happens – because it appears that the consumer approved the P2P transfer. Since the fraudster spoofed the financial institution phone number, they more than likely won’t be caught either – once it’s recognized that a scam occurred.

How can I make sure I don’t become a P2P scam victim?

  • Only send money to people you actually know. P2P transactions are instantaneous (meaning they happen within seconds) and are often irreversible.
  • Get all of your recipient’s details prior to initiating a P2P payment. Before you press “send” or “pay,” be sure you have the correct user name, phone number, photo, or other identifier. If you incorrectly enter a recipient’s email or phone number, the money could go to the wrong person and you may not get it back. Some P2P services offer the option of receiving a special code to confirm that the person you’re sending money to is your intended recipient. If this feature is available – use it.
  • Confirm you know how to get help if something goes wrong. Before using a P2P service, search the app for procedures and customer service contacts. Know who to reach out to if you have a problem.
  • Keep your app updated. Hackers usually look to exploit vulnerabilities. If your software is not up to date, you’re missing out on protections. Be sure automatic updates are turned on so you know you’re covered.

While P2P services are a useful and convenient way to pay those you know without having to go to the ATM or get change – it’s important to also be aware of the risks and ways to avoid fraud while using them.

Always remember that your legitimate financial institution will never ask you for your login credentials, passcodes, or user name. If you have additional questions or concerns about P2P payment services or have been a victim of a P2P scam in relation to a First Financial account, please give us a call at 732.312.1500 or email us at info@firstffcu.com.

Article Sources:

CUNA Mutual Group 2019 Peer-to-Peer Payments Risk Overview

CUNA Mutual Group Risk Alert – Sophisticated Scams Lead to P2P Fraud (May 12, 2020)