It’s unfortunate that scam artists have been around for centuries, cooking up new schemes to swindle people out of their hard-earned money. And in today’s digital age, it’s easier than ever for scammers to access personal information they can use to convince you they’re legitimate.

It seems there are constantly new scams specifically designed to part us with our money. These scams often tug on our heartstrings, appeal to our sense of responsibility or bank on our desire to do the right thing. Most difficult of all, they can be hard to spot. Still, with a little bit of warning, you can be on guard, avoiding pitfalls and keeping your money where it belongs: in your wallet.

Imposter scams

The most common type of scam is the imposter scam. This occurs when a scammer pretends to be someone you know, like a relative or your boss, or someone associated with an institution you trust, like your bank.

Scammers will call or email you, telling you there’s an urgent need for you to send money to a person in need to fulfill some obligation, then take your money and run. It may sound obvious but these scammers can be very convincing. For example, they might know your boss’s name, and they will often use that name to create a fake email address. People who fall victim to this scam usually don’t know it’s happening until their money is long gone.

COVID-19 scams

One new kind of scam that has popped up plays on people’s concerns about COVID-19. Scammers will pretend to be a health organization, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, a nonprofit seeking donations or a purveyor of personal protective equipment.

These scams are effective because they offer information or help during a confusing and stressful time and appeal to our generosity during a time of hardship for many people.

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Phishing

Phishing is not a new type of internet scam, but it gets more sophisticated all the time. Scammers pose as your bank or an online store you use and send you an email claiming you need to update account or payment information. Before you know it, you’ve accidentally sent sensitive account information to a nefarious actor. These messages typically come with a link that will take you right where you need to go to reenter information or reset passwords. They make it convenient and usually try to make the request seem urgent.

Avoiding these scams

So how can you protect yourself? The first line of defense is the power of observation. If you get an email from someone claiming to be a person you know asking you for money, look at the language in the email. Does it sound like the communications you usually get from this person or institution? Are there lots of mistakes or errors in the text? Next, check the email address. Does it look familiar? On the phone, ask yourself if the person’s voice sounds right, and think about what you know about that person and their habits or whereabouts.

Next, try to verify what you’re seeing or hearing. If you get a text or email from someone claiming to be your boss, reach out to them using another form of communication to verify claims. Or, if an email claims to be from your bank and wants you to provide sensitive information, call your bank and ask them about it. 

A healthy dose of skepticism is also helpful when trying to avoid scams. Most of us want to see the good in people and assume everyone’s acting in good faith. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Don’t click a link in an email if it seems off, and definitely don’t enter any personal information if someone you don’t know asks you to do so.

Finally, have a plan that will help you in case of a potential scam. You can talk to your friends or family members for help avoiding scams or write out a script you can use to fend off some convincing person’s persuasions. In addition, you can create a security question within your family. This is a question that only your family members will know the answer to, and you can ask it to someone claiming to be a relative. If they can’t answer, that’s a sure sign they’re faking.

It’s frustrating and a little sad that so many people in the world want to take advantage of others, but knowing this and taking precautions to protect yourself can save you a lot of money and hassle.

Finances FYI is presented by 1st Security Bank.

At 1st Security Bank of Washington, we take a customized and personal approach to your financial well-being. We live in the communities we serve, so our branches offer tailored solutions to their communities. We believe relationships make the difference, and that sets 1st Security Bank apart.