February 20, 2024

Bad actors will stop at nothing to steal identities and empty bank accounts. They’ll even use artificial intelligence technology to trick targets into revealing sensitive financial data. It’s crucial for consumers to learn how to recognize the telltale signs of scams even as they become more sophisticated. Fortunately, most fraudsters stick to predictable patterns. The only thing that changes is the tools they use to conduct their deceit.

Stay alert to these five nasty tactics to keep personal data safe from thieves.

1.    Pretending to represent well-known businesses or official government agencies. Crooks often use names of trusted entities to convince targets that emails, texts, or phone calls are authentic. Spoofing technology can make it seem as if the sender is the person they are claiming to be.

The message may include instructions to send money, visit a website, or share a one-time passcode to help resolve a phony issue. If someone contacts you asking for payment or personal details, verify who they are and why they're reaching out before taking action. 

2.    Threatening their targets with jail time for failing to act immediately. Be wary of messages that express urgency and warn of dire consequences if you do not respond immediately. Reputable businesses will give you the necessary time to consider your options. If you have time to think through the situation or talk to others about it, scammers know that you’re less likely to follow their instructions. 

3.    Sending generic communication about account issues. Scammers often don't include personal details to hide their fraudulent intentions. They might use vague greetings and say there's a problem with your account to make you panic. Be careful of any messages that don't mention you by name or provide details about the issue.

An email, text or pre-recorded message that says “Hello, we noticed questionable activity on your account” without any additional context should be treated with extra caution before taking any requested action.

4.    Alerting their targets of prize or lottery winnings. Fear can make some people act, but others are more likely to respond to excitement. This is why fake prize scams succeed. As with other nasty tactics, fraudsters use emotional manipulation to encourage victims to share sensitive data. In this scenario, criminals persuade victims that they will receive a cash or tangible reward once they confirm their identity.

For example, a letter or phone call might express, “Congratulations! You were selected as the Grand Prize winner in the ABC Sweepstakes. To claim your prize, we must verify your identity by matching your Social Security number with the information we have on file. Once verified, we can transfer the money to your bank account. Please provide your bank’s routing number and your checking or savings account number so we can deposit the money today.”

5.    Payments are only accepted via gift cards, wire transfers, or cash. A common thread that runs through most scams is the type of payment requested from the target. Bad actors prefer you send them money via means that are difficult to trace. Compared to credit and debit cards, these payment methods make tracking down the scammer and getting your money back tricky.

Education is the best defense against fraudsters. Once you recognize the seeds of a scam, avoiding them becomes second nature.

Visit our Security Center for practical ways to protect and monitor your finances.