Don’t Fall for a Utility Scam This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season for utility cutoff scams to ramp up. If you get a text, email, or phone call from your “utility company” threatening to shut off your power for non-payment this holiday season, don’t panic – it’s most likely a scam.

View this short video to learn more about utility scams.

Threats to Turn Off Water and Power Could Be the Work of Scammers

Many basic necessities rely on utilities we take for granted, and that makes them perfect for a scammer to exploit. Like many other scams, utility scams occur when a scammer pretends to be someone they’re not. In this case, the scammer poses as a representative from your power or water company and threatens to turn off your services unless you send payment right away or provide some important personal information.

Different Approaches, Same Intent

These scams can happen through email, over the phone, via text message, and in person. In some cases, the scammer may report you’ve overpaid for services and ask for a bank account, credit card, or utility account information to allegedly issue a refund. Remember that your actual utility company would already have this information. What’s more likely is that the scammer is trying to get your personal account information to commit fraud.

Utility scams typically include an urgent notice threatening to cancel your service due to a missed payment – leaving you without heat, air conditioning, or water. Scammers use urgency to create panic and scare you into acting fast without thinking or confirming the authenticity of the situation.

Individuals posing as utility workers may even show up at your home for a fake inspection or equipment repair, investigate a supposed gas leak, or conduct a “free” audit for energy efficiency. They will try to charge you for the fake service, sell you unnecessary products, or collect personal information to use in identity theft activities. Don’t fall for these tactics, your actual utility company would not operate in this manner.

Fast Payments Work in Scammers’ Favor

Since electronic payments are a fast way to send money and often can’t be reversed, the scammer may say that they need immediate payment via bank wire, gift card, or digital payment apps like Venmo or Zelle® to keep your utilities running. These scams are often timed for maximum urgency, such as peak heating or air conditioning seasons, or right before a big holiday celebration like Thanksgiving.

How to Protect Yourself

Watch for these warning signs to detect a utility scam in progress:

  • An unscheduled or unsolicited call or visit from someone claiming to represent your power or water company. No matter how great the offer or frightening the situation sounds, decline any action until you can verify its authenticity.
  • Threats to cut off service unless an overdue bill or maintenance cost is paid immediately. Most utility companies send multiple notifications before canceling service.
  • Requests for personal account information or payment via bank wire, gift card, or digital payment apps like Venmo or Zelle®

If you experience any of these situations, follow these steps:

  • Slow down and ask questions, like what the individual’s employee identification number is or ask them to confirm the date and amount of your most recent payment.
  • Do not respond to text or email messages threatening to turn off your utilities.
  • Call the utility company using the number on your bill or the company’s website before taking any action. Do not use a number provided by the representative.

At First Financial, our goal is 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.

To learn more about scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license.

 

 

 

How Scammers Use Social Engineering to Steal Money & How to Spot Them

As scams become more prevalent, they are also more sophisticated – making them harder to detect. Scammers often employ what is known as “social engineering” to manipulate people into revealing sensitive information.

It’s all about the psychology of persuasion. These scammers take advantage of human nature, aiming to lower your defenses so you’ll act on impulse rather than reason.

Let’s look at some examples of how social engineering uses the powers of persuasion to steal personal information and money:

Pretexting

Building a solid pretext or a fabricated scenario is an important aspect of social engineering. Hackers often research their victims in advance to get a sense of the victim’s personal and professional life to help establish the right pretext with which to approach a victim. This information can easily be found by a simple internet search or reviewing social media activities.

Pretexting is typically the first step in a broader scheme to steal from you. The scammer then pretends to be someone you trust, possibly a representative from your financial institution or a government worker offering loan forgiveness. It often starts with a friendly “hello” and a convincing story that leads the victim to hand over sensitive information that can be used to steal money or commit identify theft.

Baiting

Baiting uses the false promise of an enticing item, such as a monetary reward or free movie download, to trick the unsuspecting consumer into opening a file or providing sensitive information – like their login credentials. Instead of the attached file being the movie or other reward, it is actually infected with malware that will encrypt or take control of the individual’s data, allowing the attacker access to their personal information.

Phishing

Phishing is one of the most common types of social engineering attacks, typically in the form of emails or text messages that look like they are from a reputable source, like your financial institution – informing you of an urgent matter that needs your immediate attention. The message may include a link to a fake website that looks legitimate and suggests that you must provide personal information in order to remedy the urgent issue. This can result in the scammers gaining access to your accounts or learning important details about your identity.

Check out this video on social engineering scams.

How to Combat this Psychological Manipulation

Knowledge is key. Now that you know what to look for, follow these tips to help protect yourself:

  • Delete requests for personal information or passwords. No one should contact you for your personal information. Not even your financial institution.
  • Disregard offers for help or requests of help from those you don’t know. Especially if unsolicited.
  • Avoid tempting offers. Though it may be difficult to pass on what appears to be a great offer, don’t just dive in. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re really interested, take a step back and do some research. Confirm that the company is legitimate by researching reviews. If they are reputable, call the company allegedly offering the deal to ensure the offer came from them and not a scammer pretending to be them.
  • Verify contacts. Scammers usually imitate legitimate companies by mimicking their names in emails or using caller ID spoofing. You can check their authenticity by looking at the domain name of an email address or hanging up on an unsolicited caller, verifying the legitimate phone number, and calling back.

At First Financial, our goal is 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.

To learn more about scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license

 

 

 

How to Outsmart Sophisticated Phishing Scams

You’ve probably heard of phishing. But do you really know what it is – and more importantly, how to protect yourself from falling victim to it? Phishing scams have become very sophisticated, but there are some simple things you can do to protect yourself and keep your personal information safe.

What is Phishing?

Let’s start with a basic description: Phishing is a type of scam where an attacker sends a fraudulent message to trick you into revealing sensitive information – often to access your accounts or commit identity theft.

Phishing attempts usually occur through email, over the phone, or via text message. They can be very well-designed to look or sound like legitimate messages from those you know and trust, such as your financial institution, and may contain a link that directs you to a fake website that looks legitimate.

Check out this YouTube video on phishing scams.

Tip #1: Do not expect phishing emails to be filtered into your Junk mail. Because they are often individually crafted based on information gathered on your social media sites, they can avoid detection from advanced email filters.

How to Detect Phishing Scams

There are ways to avoid phishing scams if you know what to look and listen for. Be on the lookout for these identifying factors:

  • Inconsistencies in email addresses. Phishing emails will typically come from an unfamiliar, unusual email address. The easiest way to detect this is to hover your cursor over the email address to reveal the true “from” address. This will usually reveal the email as a fraud and can be done without actually clicking into the email itself. For example, if an email allegedly originates from your financial institution, but the domain name reads something else, it’s likely a phishing email. Delete it immediately.
  • Unfamiliar greeting or salutation. Sometimes the informality or other irregularity of a salutation can and should provoke suspicion. Be on the lookout for this type of irregularity in emails and text messages, and perhaps even phone calls. For example, if your financial institution greets you with a nickname you don’t use with your accounts, it’s an indication of phishing.
  • Bad grammar, spelling mistakes or unusual language. Legitimate emails and text messages will not have these mistakes. However, they are often found in phishing scams.
  • Demand for urgent action. This is key! Emails, text messages and phone calls threatening some type of negative consequence, loss of money, or missed opportunity are key factors in phishing scams. The urgency prompts you to act without thinking and is what ultimately gets intelligent consumers to fall for these well-designed phishing scams. The scams have flaws, but the panic they create can cause consumers to take swift action before errors can be spotted.
  • Requests for passwords. Do not respond to a text alert, email, or phone call asking for a password, PIN, or any other security information. Never give this information to anyone, even if you think it’s your bank or credit union. They will never ask you for this information. Ever.

Tip #2: Be wary of long text numbers. If you receive a text message from an unidentified number longer than 10 digits, the odds are high it’s a scam.

More Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Yourself

  • Don’t click on links in an unsolicited email or text message.
  • Don’t use the phone number a potential scammer provided in an email or text message. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call to verify the authenticity of the message or request.
  • Don’t give out personal information such as passwords, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or Social Security Numbers.
  • Don’t respond to suspected phishing emails, text messages or phone calls, even if you think it would be fun to tease or trick them. It’s best to avoid responding in any way.
  • Do be suspicious of anyone pressing you to act immediately.

Tip #3: Phone numbers and caller identities can be faked to look like the caller ID is from a business you know and trust, like your financial institution. Never trust that the caller ID is accurate. It is best to look up the company’s phone number on your own and call them.

If you detect suspicious activity, contact the alleged company directly. In the case of your financial institution, call at the number listed on the back of your bank-issued debit card, in your banking app, or the bank’s official website.

To learn about other scams and ways to protect yourself, visit zellepay.com/pay-it-safe.

At First Financial, our goal is 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.

 Zelle and the Zelle related marks are wholly owned by Early Warning Services, LLC and are used herein under license

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!

 

Avoiding Money Wiring Scams

financial crookImposters. Impersonators. Fakes. Frauds. Phonies. You might call them by different names, but these scam artists have one thing in common: they pretend to be someone they aren’t and tell you a bogus story to con you into wiring them money.

The crooks will give you a pretty convincing reason to wire money. They might say you owe the IRS taxes and you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay up. Or that you won a federal grant and have to pay a processing fee to get your money. Some even tell you a loved one’s in trouble and needs your help.

They might tell you to use a money wiring service to add funds to a 16-digit account number they give you — they say it’s your case number or account number, but it’s not. Once the transfer goes through, the money’s gone and you can’t get it back.

Government agencies will never ask you to pay by wiring money. Neither will legitimate businesses. If someone insists you pay by wiring money, it’s a scam. Don’t do it. Instead, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint or 1-877-FTC-HELP.

 

Want to help the people you care about avoid a money wiring scam? Watch the short video: Money Wiring Scams

Article Source: Alvaro Puig for http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/avoiding-money-wiring-scams?utm_source=govdelivery