We have all heard horror stories of fraudulent activity involving someone’s bank account, credit card or even a third-party payment app. I hope not, but it may have happened to you at some point. In today’s increasingly digital world of money handling, the fraudsters are getting braver, smarter and more diligent in finding ways into your personal information. They email you, text you, or even call to inform you’ve won a free vacation (not likely) in hopes that you will “click” or take the bait they are dangling in front of you to gain access into your financial world.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, an increase of more than 30 percent over the prior year. Money was lost through investment scams, online shopping, identity theft and many other tactics to steal.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid all types of fraud, here are tips to help protect yourself:

1. Use a bank. Even if you don’t think you can get a savings or checking account, you most likely can. This will help safeguard your money.

2. Develop a relationship with a local banker or financial expert. You want to be able to call someone you know, not a random person at a 1-800 number.

3. NEVER use your debit card for online purchase. If your debit card number is exposed it gives the fraudsters direct access to your bank account funds. Always use a credit card for online purchases.

4. Amazon, the IRS or other organizations will not call you or ask for your personal information via phone, text messages, emails etc. Never give your personal information to any of these calls; rather assume it is a fraudster trying to gather info so they steal from you. Reputable companies will not ask for this information.

5. Change your passwords often. Don’t use the same password for all of your logins.

6. If you use any of the popular third party payment apps do not leave money in those accounts. It is most likely not FDIC insured and you have little to no recourse if fraud were to happen.

7. Set up electronic notifications of debit or credit card usage. Every time your debit card or credit card is used for a transaction, you can be notified by text message. This will help you realize if someone has stolen your card number and is using it! Every financial institution offers this service.

8. Monitor your bank and credit accounts regularly. Look for suspicious or unfamiliar transactions.

9. In the event of a data breach of your personal information, take advantage of free credit report monitoring that should be offered to you by the company responsible for the breach.

Even if you take precaution and use the above steps, you may still find yourself in the situation of fraud on your bank accounts. If this happens, what should you do next? Contact your bank or credit card company immediately so they can help you through the process. They will help figure out exactly what you need to do to stop the current fraud and hopefully prevent it going forward. You may have to close and open new accounts. You will need to change passwords, diligently monitor your accounts and be aware of any additional fraudulent activity. Whatever you do, don’t delay contacting the bank. In most cases, as long as you have not authorized money to be sent to the fraudsters, the bank will refund your funds. And remember, it’s important to have a relationship with your banker as they are your best lifeline in face of fraud!

Sentinel News
Brian Webb
March 15, 2024