We all know the idiom “too good to be true.” This bit of skepticism has kept potential fraudsters at bay for centuries. But with the internet, instant messaging, and mobile banking becoming so commonplace these days, the ability to commit fraud and get away with it seems higher than ever. And we’re not just talking about Nigerian princes or claiming $100 Amazon gift cards anymore.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, large transactions from federal and state governments have been happening at a much larger scale than normal. With that, comes larger-scale fraud. Thankfully, financial institutions like TwinStar Credit Union have entire teams set up to analyze these “too good to be true” moments. And they are cracking down on those who would rob benefit and/or stimulus checks to those that need it.
Julie (whose real name is protected for obvious reasons) has been a Senior Fraud Investigator at TwinStar Credit Union for 11 years. She works on the Financial Investigations team. On the surface her job is simple — find fraud and investigate it. This means that if someone from the team recognizes something that just doesn’t seem right, they contact the member via phone calls or text messages to ensure the member was aware of what is going on.
But there’s way more to it than that. “On a typical day, we review reports and field phone calls, emails, and chats from our contact center and branches,” she explains. “We attempt to reach out to members to review transaction activity, and we also make every effort to help educate the member to protect themselves against potentially fraudulent activity. Something I love about my job is that it is different every day. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new happens.”
For 2020, that “something new” was the COVID-19 pandemic. “COVID-19 brought us a new avenue for fraud in regard to government benefits and state unemployment deposits,” she says. “We see two sides to this — the fraudsters need an account for fraudulent unemployment/assistance claims to be deposited and then withdrawn or that our member’s information was compromised and possibly used to open a fraudulent claim.”
To mitigate these types of issues, Julie advises to always use best online practices, especially when it comes to private information. The most common words and phrases Julie advises people to be wary of are things like “gift cards,” where the account holder is instructed to purchase gift cards and provide the card numbers back to the fraudster. “Cryptocurrency” is another one, where often the account holder is instructed to buy cryptocurrency with the funds they’ve received. “Send the money back” is where sometimes the money was deposited in an account so it could be sent somewhere else.
“If someone is giving you too much money for that item you listed on Craigslist, there’s a reason for it,” warns Julie. “They usually want to take advantage of an honest person and will trust that you will send the overpayment back to them. Then we find out the check is bad, and the depositor may be out the money and/or whatever they sold.”
Other trends Julie has seen over the past year include TwinStar members, believing they are working with a TwinStar representative, giving away certain pieces of information the credit union would never ask to verify. These include your social security number, debit card PIN, and usernames or passwords. “Anything that should remain confidential should not be shared with anyone,” asserts Julie.
While to some, this seems like common sense. But Julie emphasizes that it’s a lot easier to fall for a scam than one would think. “Anyone can be a victim of fraud,” she insists. “Know that if you fall for a scam, you aren’t alone. The fraudsters out there are GOOD at what they do and very convincing. Also know that you have resources.”
One such resource is the Federal Trade Commission’s article “How to Avoid a Scam.” This includes best online practices, as well as a few basic examples of the types of fraud out there. Another resource is the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), where fraud victims can report their claim, and let the FBI handle it from there.
For Julie, the bottom line is this: “Trust your gut. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to a victim who says, ‘I thought it seemed weird,’ or ‘I didn’t know why they needed that information, and I thought it was odd.’ If you think something seems off, always know you can discuss your concerns with your financial institution.”
Find out more about how TwinStar Fraud Prevention Services is protecting you and your money.