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The definitive guide to fraud

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In 2020, consumers reported losing more than $3.3 billion to fraud - a huge increase of nearly $1.5 billion over 2019. Take action to help protect yourself from fraud by learning about the most common ways criminals try to steal your money. Whether it's through your email or cell phone, scammers are always discovering new ways to steal. The targeted activities vary widely, however, it was found that younger victims fall to scams more frequently, but older victims lose more money when being scammed.

Types of check fraud

Check fraud usually involves a fake check. But the scams are very clever, with fakes almost identical to originals.

  • Fake check scams. Fraudsters send victims a fake check for an item they’re trying to sell or a bogus lottery win, with instructions to wire them some money back.
  • Mystery shopper scams. Scammers send mystery shoppers a fake check and ask them to wire a ‘fee’ back in return.

How to tell if your check is fake

  • Check the edges. Most checks have been torn from a checkbook, so should have a perforated edge rather than a smooth one.
  • Look for bank name and logo. If there isn’t one, or it’s faded, it might have been copied from another source. It should also have the bank address printed next to it.
  • Find the check number. All valid checks have one. If the number is low, it signals a new account. 90% of fake checks are written from newly created accounts.
  • Inspect the magnetic ink character recognition line. It should be dull and smooth, rather than raised and shiny. It should include the check series number, routing number and account number.
  • Feel the paper. Real checks are printed on thick paper. There should be no dark borders across the top, marbled or starburst backgrounds, or uneven bars on sides.
  • Look at the ink. Dampen an inked area of the check – if the color runs, it’s fake.
  • Notice the signature. A genuine signature will be consistent in appearance and not contain pixels or shaky pen strokes.
  • Check for errors. Scammers might make spelling mistakes or errors, such as the amount of the check not matching up with the written-out amount.
  • Padlock/security lock icon should be in line with - and following the word – ‘Dollars’” There should be 3-4 lines of text next to it.
  • Micro-print symbol icon should be located on the end of the signature line. The M and P should be capitalized and interconnected.

Types of online fraud

Whether it’s through your email or cell phone, scammers are always finding ways to use technology to steal your money.

  • Online shopping scams. Scammers set up fake retail websites asking victims to pay for bogus items using a money order or wire transfer.
  • Anti-Virus software scams. A pop-up window opens on the victim’s computer screen claiming there’s a virus they must pay an amount of money to remove.
  • Relationship scams. Fraudster leads a victim to believe they are in an online relationship and requests money to help with a fake crisis.
  • Phishing scams. Cyber-criminals send emails encouraging victims to download attachments that install malware and steal their personal information.
  • Text message scams. Scammers claim to be from a bank and request a victim’s personal data and security information.

Types of in-person fraud

While many scammers have gone online, many still use an in-person approach…

  • Advance payment/fees scams. Fraudsters request a big portion of payment for an item, fee for a loan or service in advance, but the item never shows up. The latest is someone offering to sell you a puppy if you send them money first.
  • Charity scams. Scammers raise money for a fake charity or disaster relief fund.
  • Employment scams. Victims are urged to send money to a bogus employer as part of their application to a fake job listing.
  • Emergency scams. Fraudsters make up a story about a victim’s family member needing money wired to them urgently.
  • Rental property scams. A criminal posing as a landlord requests a down payment for a property that doesn’t exist.
  • Tax or immigration scams. A scammer claiming to be government official asks a victim to pay money to settle tax or immigration issues.
  • Lottery scams. Criminals tell fraud victims they’ve won a foreign lottery but that they need to wire money to cover taxes and fees to collect the jackpot.

Protecting yourself against fraud

Always think carefully about who you’re sending money to. Never wire money to someone you’ve never met or don’t know personally – or for an unconfirmed emergency. We’d advise against proceeding with a money transfer for:

  • Purchases you’ve already made online
  • Anti-virus protection software
  • Lottery or prize winnings
  • Any taxes
  • Charitable donations
  • An immigration matter
  • Goods or services from someone you’ve only ever spoken to over the phone

If you’re worried about a money transfer, just speak with a Money Services associate who’ll be able to help you.

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