Learn to spot and protect yourself against potential financial scams.

Scams are constantly evolving. Before technology advanced to where it is today, many of those financial scams involved checks. Now, Lt. David Williams says the Jefferson City Police Department sees most financial scams revolving around electronics such as phone calls, emails, text messages, computer software, and more. Consumers lost more than $5.8 billion due to fraud in 2021, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is an increase of more than 70% compared to 2020. Of the nearly 2.8 million consumers who filed fraud reports with the FTC last year, impostor scams (i.e., when someone pretends to be someone else to access financial or personal information) accounted for more than a third of those reports.

“The bad guys are trying to establish credibility and trust with you so that you think they are legitimate, and they are very good at it,” says Ken Theroff , president and CEO of Central Bank in Jefferson City.

“The bad guys are trying to establish credibility and trust with you so that you think they are legitimate, and they are very good at it.”

Ken Theroff – President and CEO, Central Bank

Identify Financial Scams
Some financial scams are harder to spot than others, so you should always ask questions.

Are they asking for personal information?
According to both Ken and Dave, police departments and financial institutions will not ask for personal or sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, credit card information, or personal identification numbers. Sometimes, individuals will receive phone calls from what appears to be the police claiming they have warrants and must pay their fines over the phone. Residents should not release that information over the phone because scammers can easily spoof phone numbers and call people pretending to be a police department representative.

“We don’t call people and tell them to pay their fines over the phone,” Dave says. “If you have a warrant and we have your personal information, we’re coming to you. We’re going to be knocking on your door, coming to your work. We’re not going to call you and ask you to give us a credit card to pay for it over the phone.”

If someone provides too much personal information and the scammer accesses the individual’s account, it may be difficult for a financial institution to identify the scam quickly, Ken notes.

Is the call/message urgent or emotional?
Fraudsters will often create a sense of urgency or use emotional situations in their scams to cause individuals to act quickly and make the mistake of revealing sensitive information or sending financial aid.

While anyone can fall victim to financial scams, Ken and Dave warn the elderly are regular targets and can be more vulnerable to believing scam stories. Scammers will call or email claiming their loved ones, like children or grandchildren, were hospitalized or arrested. Scammers will insist the loved ones need money quickly and urge elderlies to send financial aid.

Was the call/message unexpected or unusual?
Unusual or unexpected requests should immediately raise red flags. For example, a scammer called a resident and urged the individual to buy gift cards. The resident bought gift cards from department stores and sent the card numbers and codes to the caller. The gift card money was quickly drained, and the Jefferson City Police Department had difficulty uncovering who the scammer was, Dave explains.

An unusual message may also contain misspellings or grammatical errors, which is common in phishing emails and text messages.

Protect Yourself From Financial Scams
Both Ken and Dave say awareness is the best way to help protect yourself from scams, but being aware involves more than you may think.

Know where your personal information is.
Scammers regularly pull information from websites and social media. Organizations and institutions post their numbers, emails, and sometimes, employees’ names on their websites. Many individuals share birthdays, names of children, grandchildren, pets, workplaces, home addresses, etc., on social media.

“They use this information and initiate a phone call and they try to build that trust with that person,” Ken says.

$5.8 BILLION – According to the FTC, that’s how much consumers lost to fraud in 2021. That’s a lot of zeros

Monitor your bank accounts.
Know what money is entering and leaving your bank accounts to help you spot fraudulent transactions early.

“A lot of people don’t realize there is money missing from their accounts until it’s been weeks or months, and sometimes that’s hard to trace back,” Dave says.

If you call your bank regarding an is-sue and later receive a call back from your bank, that may indicate the call is legitimate. If you receive a call or email that is unexpected, do not provide confidential information and do not click on the suspicious link. You should always take steps to ensure callers or senders are who they say they are.

Verify their identity.
Don’t rely on the name of the caller or the phone number to verify someone’s identity. Scammers make phone numbers and caller names appear legitimate. Scammers can also create fake social media profiles and email addresses so they appear as people you know.

If you’re skeptical of a call, text message, or email, contact the institution, organization, or individual directly. Use the number or email listed on the institution’s official website. If you receive a social media message or email from a friend, contact the friend using a verified phone number or email address.“If it’s legitimate, they will allow you to verify who they are,” Dave says.

Know what to do if you are a victim.
Scammers are clever and getting more advanced. Call your bank immediately if you are the victim of a financial scam.

Services, like Central Bank’s fraud department, have expanded significantly over the last decade and can handle the growing number and types of financial scams. If a bank learns a customer was a victim of a financial scam, the fraud department will work with the customer to lock bank accounts, cancel credit and debit cards, and if applicable, contact the police. Whether the customer gets the money back depends on the situation, Ken adds.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Ken says. “The sooner we know, the better chance we have to help you.”

“A lot of people don’t realize there is money missing from their accounts until it’s been weeks or months, and sometimes that’s hard to trace back.”

Lt. Dave Williams – Jefferson City Police Department