Millions of people fall victim to identity theft every year. The best way to protect yourself is to understand how popular scams work. However, once you become comfortable identifying them, fraudsters change it up and move to new methods. A new trend emerging involves fraudsters piggybacking off legitimate text alerts from financial institutions. These messages are deceiving because they often copy the same language credit unions and banks use to alert individuals of suspicious activity on their accounts. Identifying text scams can be challenging at first, but there are tell-tale signs of a scam.

How Text Scams Work

Text scams tend to fall into the fraud category of “phishing.” It’s exactly as it sounds – fraudsters are fishing for any personal or sensitive information you’re willing to provide.
Most phishing attempts come through email, text message, or social media. The message will usually contain a link to a website or a phone number to call. The three most common ways they gain access to your information include:

    • Clicking a Link: If you click the provided link, it will usually direct you to a fake website that mimics the company they are impersonating. Their goal is for you to attempt to log into your account so they can steal your login information or other sensitive data.
    • Downloading Malware: Clicking the provided link might also install malware on your device – allowing the scammers to monitor your web activity and potentially steal personal information.
    • Calling a Phone Number: Many scammers can be very convincing while impersonating your financial institution or other business. They may already have some of your personal information obtained online (for example, via social media). They use these bits of information to assure you they are who they claim.

Common Examples of Fraudulent Text Messages

As fraudulent text scams spike in popularity, the messages are also evolving. Here are examples of actual fraudulent text messages. We’re going to use Money FCU as the placeholder financial institution name. However, fraudsters may randomly choose one, or they may, in fact, know you have an account at the bank/credit union they’re naming.

    • Verify Money FCU Activity: Did you spend $576.34 @ BEST BUY? Reply Y if Recognized OR Reply N if Not Recognized. Any reply verifies to the scammer that the phone number is active and valid, and they will follow up with a phone call.
    • Your Money FCU Debit Card is charged for $598.97. If you do not recognize this event, please click [link] to cancel it.
    • Money FCU: A transfer of $155.03 was just issued from your Free Checking Account. Visit [link] to cancel this transfer.
    • Your Money FCU account has been temporarily suspended. Please use the secure link below to verify your account and continue using it. [link]
    • Your Money FCU debit card has been compromised. Please call [Phone #] to verify your account & activate your new card.
    • Money FCU: We have placed a hold on your account. Resolve by clicking below [link]

How to Spot Text Scams

Sometimes it’s pretty easy to identify text scams. For example, the fraudster sends you a message from a financial institution where you don’t have an account. Other times, it can be a bit more difficult. Here are a few key features that can help you identify fraudulent texts.

    • They Ask for Private Information: Anytime you receive a text or follow-up call inquiring about account information, stop. No financial institution will text, email, or call unsolicited requesting your personal information.
    • They Send Suspicious URLs: Whether in email or text, always look over the web address provided. You can often spot a scam because the URL will be unfamiliar, misspelled, or completely unrelated to the financial institution.
    • They Use Confusing Wording: While text messages are concise, legitimate businesses still tend to use proper grammar. If you notice misspellings or wording that is confusing, it’s most likely a scam.
    • Your Response is Needed ASAP: Fraudulent texts often press you to act immediately. If you don’t respond within a short period of time, you might receive subsequent messages urging you to take action.
    • They Try to Scare You: Most messages are written to scare you. For example, someone is trying to make a large purchase with your debit card. It’s ironic because scammers use fake texts about people stealing your money – to actually try and steal your money!

Ways to Protect Yourself

The best protection from fraudulent texts is understanding how these scams work and being able to identify them quickly. Other measures you can take to ensure your safety include:

    • Virus Protection: Install and update virus and malware protection on all your devices. If you glance at a text and see your financial institution’s name, you might click the link without thinking. With proper virus protection, malicious URLs will be blocked.
    • Contact Your Financial Institution: If you receive a text message from your financial institution, do not respond. Instead, contact them directly. Or, you can log into your account through online or mobile banking to see if there are any pending charges or issues.
    • Change Your Passwords: Update the passwords to your financial accounts regularly. Use a combination of upper/lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to strengthen your login credentials.
    • Monitor Your Account: It’s good practice to log into your financial accounts regularly to review your balance and recent transactions. If fraud does occur, the sooner you spot it, the better

How to Know if it’s a Real Alert

Your real bank or credit union WILL. NOT. ASK. FOR. PERSONAL. OR. ACCOUNT. LOGIN. INFORMATION.

At Money FCU, our fraud department may call and text members to verify suspicious charges on a Money FCU Debit Mastercard. However, we NEVER ask to confirm personal information or login credentials. This can get tricky, because fraudsters are getting more clever in mimicking real contact attempts. However, the one difference is a bank or credit union shouldn’t ask for any sensitive information. They already have it all!

When in doubt, call your financial institution directly at the number you know.

We’re Here to Help!

The thought of scammers gaining access to your account or money is scary. That’s why account security and member privacy remain our top priorities. If you believe you’re a victim of fraud or want to report a suspicious message from the credit union, please contact us immediately at (315) 671-4000.

Money FCU also offers members free credit monitoring through My Credit. Users get real-time alerts, daily credit scores, and a free credit report every month.

Each individual’s financial situation is unique and readers are encouraged to contact the Credit Union when seeking financial advice on the products and services discussed. This article is for educational purposes only; the authors assume no legal responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the contents.