Scammers are known for preying on victims’ vulnerabilities, such as financial hardship, fear and confusion. Given the particularly challenging circumstances surrounding COVID-19, people who believe they are savvy enough to avoid scams may fall victim, nonetheless.
Proactive education is the best way to not only protect members, but also help your credit union staff be prepared to assist members who have been targeted by scammers. In fact, a recent Javelin study found 80% of people in the U.S. who are informed about a scam will disengage from it.
Here are 10 common practices scammers keep in their arsenals to attempt to fool your members and commit fraud.
- Faking an emergency. Scammers pretend to represent an official organization (like the IRS) and call, text or email members to demand immediate money for bogus issues. They use threatening phrases such as, “Your 401k plan will be frozen,” “Your passport will be seized,” or “The maximum sentence for this crime is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine,” to catch victims off guard and create a sense of urgency.
- Expressing that resistance is ineffective. Once the scammer has created the emergency and instilled panic, they reinforce there is nothing the member can do to remedy the situation. In the case of an IRS scam, they often tell the member they must cooperate or face arrest or fines.
- Rewarding cooperation with encouraging comments. Scammers sometimes try to play the part of a trusted friend, offering help and a way out of the emergency that would provide relief to the member. They often tell the member they seem like a good person and offer to help them with the situation at hand.
- Not allowing victims to hang up until they pay up. Phone scammers say it is a one-time opportunity for the member to take action to avoid further consequences, and if the member hangs up the phone, he or she will not be offered another chance to resolve the problem.
- Using official sounding titles and names for ordinary things. Scammers try to sound impressive to gain members’ trust. They use official sounding titles and names for merchants and everyday items. Examples include referring to a gift card as an “electronic federal tax payment system,” or instead of using the name of a store, they call it a “government-affiliated payment processor.”
- Stating they are not asking for personal information upfront. Scammers know asking for personal information could raise alarm bells for the member. Instead, they may say they are not looking to obtain this information, or they are not looking for an exchange of funds over the phone, which may cause members to let down their guard. This is why scammers often use gift cards to extract payment.
- Signaling to members they are being recorded. In an attempt to sound legitimate, scammers say the call is being recorded and monitored by the IRS.
- Threatening to alert the media. Scammers go to great lengths to keep suspicious or wary members on the phone, and even go so far as to threaten to contact the media on behalf of the IRS if the member does not comply with what is being asked. This is used as a last resort to salvage a conversation that might not be going well.
- Exploiting member engagement. Once scammers have members hooked, they may transfer the call to another fake agent in an attempt to further legitimize the call. Often, these scamming “call centers” employ multiple scammers who work together to make the initial call and then close the scam. Scammers are highly organized: some are responsible for getting members hooked, while others focus on closing the deal by extracting payment. They may say, “Please hold on the line, I am transferring the call to my senior treasury specialist,” or “Thanks for waiting, this is senior officer Matthews from the account department. My badge ID is…”
- Insisting members keep quiet about special offers. If a scammer offers a special tax break, for instance, they will often demand the member not discuss it with anyone, as it would prevent them from getting the settlement.
Encourage members to report scams as soon as they occur, and urge credit union staff to visit USA.gov for information on reporting scams and fraud.