7 Common Scams and How to Avoid Them

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7 Common Scams and How to Avoid Them

In uncertain times, criminals are very active and ready to take advantage of unsuspecting people. The term “con” (as in con artist) is short for confidence. A con is a trick played on someone by a criminal who earns the trust – the confidence – of their prey.

The key to outsmarting these scammers is to adopt the motto, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” And if you’re ever in doubt, fact check it first on the Federal Trade Commission’s website for common scams.

Cons make their living stealing a small amount of money thousands of times, and some get away with hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time. Banks all over the country have seen a dramatic spike in scams and frauds. Below are just a few of the most common scams we see.

Romance scams
The pandemic finds more of us at home and online. Making friends or dating online is always a risk. If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using it to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.

Easy money scams
These fraudsters make it seem like you’ll make “$500 per week” just by doing something simple like putting a decal on your car to advertise a business. They mail you a big check, ask you to deposit it and then buy money orders or wire most of the money to the “decal installer,” keeping a small portion of the money as your “first payment” before you even have the decal. The installer never comes. Then, weeks after you have sent the money, you find out the check was fake, so you lose not only that “first payment” but even worse, the larger amount that you sent to the (fake) installer.

Government impostor scams
Generally if there’s a payment that is rightly yours, you don’t need to pay someone else to get it for you. The IRS sends paper letters that can be verified. If someone claiming to be from the IRS calls, emails or texts about helping you get a stimulus or other government payment, that person is running a government impostor scam on you. As the FTC says on its website, “The IRS will not text, email or call you about your economic impact payment. And they’ll never ask you to pay a fee to get your money.”

Fake debt collectors
Did someone contact you about a debt that you don’t recognize? First, get validation information. By law, debt collectors have to give you information — either over the phone or in writing — that includes the amount of the debt, the name of the current creditor and how to get the name of the original creditor. If it’s medical, ask for the provider name, date of service and the name of the service. Then verify it with the original entity before considering payment. Get more tips on this scam from the FTC.

Business impostor scams
Fraudsters will call you, taking a gamble that you have done business with someone in a particular line of business – say, a computer repair service – the exact name of which you may not remember. Complicating matters is that those businesses often have very similar names. They may say your computer has been hacked, infected or is having significant performance problems. If this happens, it’s best to ask the name of the business and a phone number that you can call back. That buys you time to verify that the caller is the real McCoy and that what they’re saying is true.

“You won!” frauds
Beware of callers or emails saying you’ve won a prize but first you need to pay the postage with money orders or gift cards. It’s a trap! Any messages that pretend to be from Pepsi, Walmart, Whole Foods, Target and other big-name brands saying they’re offering free aid during the pandemic? Also a trap! The FTC has been tracking these, as well, and has great advice on how to handle them.

Wire fraud
People and businesses who frequently send money by wire may let down their guard when they get an email that looks as though it comes from someone at their own company. It’s always worth a quick phone call to verify that the person actually sent the request, or devise a system of secure images that must always accompany such requests. Learn more about wire fraud and business email compromise and what you can do to protect yourself.

These are just a few of the common scams we and other banks are seeing, and you can find more and even report fraud at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts. You can also call our Client Service Center or call your local office to ask for help detecting a scam.


Dominque Cole Johnson is the office leader at Pinnacle’s Farrington Road office in Chapel Hill, NC. She can be reached by phone at 919.913.3221 or by email at Dom.ColeJohnson@pnfp.com.

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