Thursday, May 7, 2009

Smarty Pants: Fraud Protection

This was not the Smarty Pants post I had planned for this week, but when I received not one, not two, but Four! phone calls yesterday from "my bank," I had to write about it. And so begins the first of what will undoubtedly be many posts written on fraud protection in the years to come.

I mean, considering that we're in a recession, and that we can all use every penny that we make.
And considering that no one wants to be stolen from, I thought my experience yesterday was worth discussing.

A Gentleman Caller?
As mentioned--I received four calls yesterday from a number that came up as "Toll Free" on my caller ID. Each time an automated robot voice left a message identifying themselves as my bank, and telling me that there had been some unusual activity on my debit card that they were concerned about. How nice of them, don't you think?

Except that it wasn't my bank at all.

Thankfully I did not end up getting burned by this scam.
And here's why: because in my former life as a banker, I learned a thing or two about how these fraudsters work. Knowledge I am more than willing to share with anyone who will listen. So here it goes:

When being phoned your bank:
Rule #1: know that their name should Definitely appear on your caller ID. I don't care if the bank is a mega-bailout-receiving-corporation, or a small, locally owned operation--they should pop up as exactly who they are. No "toll free" or "caller unknown" or "out of area." If someone leaves a message claiming to be your bank, lender, credit card company, etc. and the caller ID is questionable at all--don't call that number back! Call the numbers you have on file for your company and inquire there.

Rule #2: never--I repeat--Never--give sensitive information over the phone to a caller. This especially includes Social Security numbers and PIN numbers. Fraudsters often have you provide information to "verify" your identity, when really they just want enough to steal your identity. Always remember that when your financial institution contacts you, they already have your important information on record--they shouldn't need to ask for it.

Rule #3: when in doubt, double check Everything. After receiving yesterday's calls, my husband and I did two things. First, we checked our accounts to see if there was any unusual activity. Second, we found a link on our bank's webpage listing all of their valid phone numbers (because of fraud, many banks are providing this information right from their homepage). Needless to say, our toll free friends weren't on the list. Our hunch was confirmed--they were thieves.

Rule #4: if you do end up giving away information, and then later feel uncomfortable about it, contact your financial institution and have your accounts changed. Most banks/lenders have a simple process for assigning a new debit card to your account, or switching your credit card. And even if the process is a hassle, do it anyway. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Thank you?
Just for fun, my husband did end up calling the number and punched in some false account numbers to get to a live person. When he did, he was of course asked for more information. At which point he told the caller that he knew they were running a scam and had contacted the bank about them.

To which the caller replied, "Oh...Thank you." And hung up.

Thank you, indeed.

Other Recent Smarty Pants Posts:
Blame the Pigs
Avoiding Pitfalls in the News
Is Staying Home Foolish in a Recession?

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