How To Tell Whether It’s Really Your Bank Contacting You — or a Scammer

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The digital age has allowed Americans to transact business at their fingertips, from the comforts of their couch. Never has banking or shopping been more convenient — nor made us more vulnerable to the threat of fraudsters trying to steal our personal information. And our money.

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You might have been on the receiving end of an email, text message or call from someone purporting to represent your bank, needing information to right a wrong with your account. It very likely wasn’t a bank representative, but rather a “phishing” scheme, which is a type of fraud designed to get you to spill personal details.

The Federal Trade Commission said it received in 2020 more than 2.1 million reports of fraud from consumers, who reported losses of more than $3.3 billion.

But how can you determine if it really is your bank trying to get in touch with you or whether a scammer is trying to access your confidential information? Read on for tips, including those from the American Banking Association, which runs its #BanksNeverAskThat campaign to help keep consumers safe.

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What a Scammer Wants

The end goal of a phishing scheme is to ascertain enough of your personal or banking information to access your accounts. Synchrony Bank says these identity thieves especially want this personal information:

  • Social Security numbers, which can be used to claim your tax refund or open a line of credit in your name
  • Contact information that third parties can use to confirm your identity
  • Your driver’s license number and date of birth, which often are needed for new accounts
  • Your security passwords, including your mother’s maiden name
  • Usernames, passwords and personal identification numbers
  • Other account numbers that could lead a scammer to access credit cards and investment accounts

Warning Signs of a Scam

The ABA says there are telltale signs that an email, text message or telephone call you receive could be the work of a scammer. Watch out for these red flags:

High-Pressure Messaging

Scammers want you to act quickly. Their communications with you could include high-pressure language, scare tactics or a “warning” that something will happen with your account — and funds — if you don’t take urgent action.

Asking for Personal Information

Before taking any action, think back on the communication you’ve had when calling bank representatives. They might ask you to confirm your name, address, last four digits of your Social Security number or to provide details of a recent transaction you’ve made.

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They won’t ask you for passwords, your account PIN or a log-in code you’ve received by text. Scammers covet that information, though, so don’t give it. In fact, before sharing any information, it is wise to hang up or get off your device and contact your bank directly through a trusted phone number or drop into your local branch.

Diverting You From Legitimate Bank Contacts

If by phone, email or text you are asked to visit a website other than the bank’s official site or call a number that isn’t listed on the back of your debit card, don’t do it. Again, contact your bank through a number you have in your files or that you find on the bank’s website.

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Spotting Unprofessional Communications

If you receive an email that includes typographical errors or incorrect grammar, contains links that look suspicious or is written unprofessionally, it’s likely the work of a scammer. Don’t reply or hit the links.

How to Prevent a Scam

Preventing a scam starts by taking steps to secure your online account, the ABA says. It takes just a few minutes, and the ABA recommends:

  • Setting your account to require multi-factor authentication on your bank log-in. With multi-factor authentication, you’ll need to enter more than your password to access your account. It typically involves your bank sending you a text message or an email with a one-time password to verify your identity.
  • Using a random or complex password for your online account.
  • Installing the latest virus and malware protection on your device.
  • Calling your bank directly or signing into your account, to confirm a message or email you received. Don’t reply to an email directly.
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The Bottom Line

If you have reason to question whether your bank truly is trying to contact you, listen to your instincts. Don’t respond to an email or a text message, open links or give out any personal information on the telephone — no matter how “urgent” you’re told the issue is to resolve. Instead, contact your bank directly. The bank’s representative will tell you whether you have any reasons for concern with your account, and you’ll know you can trust the source.

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About the Author

Jami Farkas holds a communications degree from California State University, Fullerton, and has worked as a reporter or editor at daily newspapers in all four corners of the United States. She brings to GOBankingRates experience as a sports editor, business editor, religion editor, digital editor — and more. With a passion for real estate, she passed the real estate licensing exam in her state and is still weighing whether to take the plunge into selling homes — or just writing about selling homes.

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