Understanding what it takes to protect your financial interests
Identity theft, phishing and counterfeit check scams are three common ways bad people steal from good people. Here are some common sense tips to help you better manage the risk.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or crimes. These thieves take your personal information like a Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank information, etc. to get credit cards and bank accounts, rent apartments and buy services in your name. They often destroy your good credit in the process and make it very difficult for the real person to later regain their identity and good credit standing.
Identity thieves use many methods to get your information: stealing your wallet or purse, searching your trash for un-shredded documents, pretending to be a real company reaching out to you for your personal data online or stealing large amounts of customer information from companies whose systems have been breached.
If your identity has been stolen, it is critically important to file a police report, notify your creditors and dispute each fraudulent transaction as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, the longer the identity thief perpetrates their fraud, the harder it is to repair the damage later.
Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Store your personal information in a safe and secure place in your home.
- Shred any document displaying your personal information.
- Don’t provide personal information over the phone or Internet unless YOU initiated the contact.
- Review your financial statements closely when you receive them; don’t wait.
- Inspect your credit report at least annually.
- Don't carry your Social Security card with you; don’t hand it out unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Pay attention to your mail. Contact your bank or utility if you have stopped receiving a regular statement or bill.
- Select complex passwords others can’t guess; use characters other than letters; avoid common codes like your birthday.
- Never click on a link in an unsolicited email.
- Close any bank or store account that has been compromised and contact their fraud department.
- File a police report.
- Place a fraud alert on your accounts with the three major credit bureaus:
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
- Report suspicious e-mails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
- Download the FTC's special ID Theft booklet
Phishing occurs when someone sends you an email requesting you to provide them with one or more pieces of your personal information. The term “phishing” implies that the sender is “fishing” around to see who will believe their phony email request and who will send them personal information. The purpose of phishing is to convince you to enter personal data like Social Security numbers or passwords into a site you trust for a purpose that seems reasonable to you.
Oftentimes, the phishing email appears to be from a legitimate company or even your bank or a friend. Many phishing attempts use logos of real companies to make the request seem more real. The message might sound urgent so you’ll believe a fast response is required. You will usually be asked to click a link to a website that is named similarly to a real website and may even look like the real website. It may ask you to “log in” as a way to convince you it’s a secure website when, in fact, the act of logging into a phony website discloses your private password and login to a thief.
Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Remember that Pioneer Bank or any bank or legitimate company would NEVER send you an email asking you to disclose personal information. Most companies are very aware of phishing concerns and avoid making such requests.
- Never respond to unsolicited emails requesting you to log in.
- Never respond to unsolicited emails asking you to click a link and then asking you to log in for security.
- Never respond to unsolicited emails asking you to share any personal or sensitive data that could be used to steal your identity including Social Security numbers, account numbers, passwords, security information (such as mother’s maiden name).
- Beware of any emails that contain small typos; most companies send error-free messages; typos in links are often used to direct you to a website that is fraudulent.
- If you are unsure if a request can be trusted, telephone the company using a telephone number you locate through your own sources. Don’t use phone numbers provided in an email as validation; they can be as phony as the email itself.
- Review all bank and account statements frequently to be sure there are no fraudulent transactions occurring on your account. Contact Pioneer Bank yourself if you believe the contact may be legitimate. You can find phone numbers and websites on the monthly statements you receive from your financial institution, or you can look the company up in a phone book or on the Internet. You should be the one to initiate the contact, using contact information that you have verified yourself.
- Never allow an email or caller to intimidate you by acting as if the information they need is urgent. No legitimate bank or company would pressure their customer to make a snap judgment during an unsolicited call.
Counterfeit Check Scams
Counterfeit check scams occur when someone fabricates a story that involves money, checks, payment to you and the like when, in fact, the checks they provide you are counterfeit and only benefit the scammer. Here are some common versions of these scams:
- Mystery Shopper Scam: You are offered a too-good-to-be-true job as a mystery shopper. You are asked to shop the store and score the service you receive. You are also asked to send a check or money order through Western Union so you can evaluate the company’s service. The tempting part of the scam is that you will be told you can keep a portion of the check or money order as payment for your services. In most cases, these checks are fraudulent and you have been tricked into passing a counterfeit check that benefits a scammer while you’re left facing the legal consequences.
- Work from Home Scam: You are offered a job usually described as Payment Processing. You’re told that you will deposit checks into your own personal bank account on behalf of the business. Then, you are told to wire the money to the business and keep a percentage as payment for your work. These checks are usually counterfeit despite looking legitimate. The result: you have been tricked into passing a counterfeit check that benefits a scammer, leaving you to face the legal consequences.
- Online Auction Overpayment Scam: You sell an item online and your buyer sends you a check for more than the purchase price. The buyer asks you to send the balance due to a third-party that may even reside in a foreign country. The check is often counterfeit and you have taken a loss on the money you sent to the third-party who is in on the scam.
- Help Me Scam: This is a general category of scams that usually contain the same basic story. Someone you don’t know needs your help. The unknown person is willing to send you a check for a large sum of money and needs you to cash the check in your bank account. They always allow you to keep a portion of the check as payment for your time and trouble. You are asked to wire the smaller amount of the check back to the scammer who walks away with your money and leaves you holding a counterfeit check.
Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Remember that if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is and it’s probably a scam.
- Never send money from your account to an unsolicited stranger in exchange for a paper document.
- Never use your personal bank account to process checks or money orders for a stranger.
- Any transaction involving a check or money order has the risk of the document being a counterfeit; don’t get involved.
Other Online Safety Tips
- Don’t use your Social Security number as a username or password. Change your username and password regularly. Make your password more difficult to discover by using combinations of letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one purpose.
- Protect your passwords. Never write them down or share them.
- Protect your answers to security questions. Select questions and answers that are easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess. Do not write down your answers or share them with anyone.
- Remember to properly end your online banking session or any online transaction where you have used a credit or debit card by logging off. If you cannot log off, close out of your web browser to prevent unauthorized access to your account information.
- Use only secure websites and retailers you know for shopping. Make sure internet purchases are secured with encryption to protect your account information. Look for a lock symbol in the lower right-hand corner of your web browser window or “https://…” in the address bar of the website to know your transaction is secure. The “s” in “https” indicates the web page is secure using encryption.
- Close your web browser when you’re not using the internet.
- Avoid accessing your bank accounts or shopping via public hotspots.
Mobile Phone Safety Tips
- Keep your mobile phone locked when not in use. While access takes a few seconds longer, this prevents strangers from using your mobile phone if it is lost or stolen.
- Never leave your phone unattended, in the open, or in your car.
- Do not store bank information or bank messages on your mobile phone.
- Do not casually discard or sell your mobile phone. Use an authorized electronics recycler such as Best Buy to have old phones and computers wiped clean of personal information and destroyed.
- Never text or email personal or financial information, including account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers or birthdates.
- Download mobile apps from reputable sources only. Pioneer Bank will only provide its free mobile apps to verifiable sources such as Apple's App Store and Google's Google Play.