If you have a bank account, you could be one of the many people that becomes a target for banking and investment scams.
Even if you're doing better financially than most, meeting your savings goals, investing, and paying off debt, a simple scam could wipe your bank account clean.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that in 2022 consumers lost $8.8 billion to fraud, a 30% increase over the previous year. Most of those people didn’t think they were being scammed either.
Don’t fall for these 15 banking scams that will cost you money but are so easy to believe.
Classified ads overpayment scam
Whether it’s your favorite online auction, social media marketplaces, or any other classified ad online, it’s easy to fall for this banking scam.
A person says they'll send a check to you, and when they do, the check is for more than what they owe. They ask you to simply transfer the extra back to them.
The problem is the check is fake, and you don’t know that until you deposit it and the bank declines it sometimes days later. In the process, you’ve already given them the overage.
Fake buyer cancels wire
Following along the same type of scam as above, in this one, a person often attempts to purchase something from you, but they’re located numerous states away. Are they really going to drive five hours for that $10 pair of used shoes?
Instead, they send you a payment, which seems to go through, then ask you to wire some of it back because of overpayment. You do, but ultimately the transfer to you is declined, canceled, or just never goes through.
Your "bank" asks you to verify your Social Security number
You receive an email that looks like it came from your bank. It has the “correct” logo and very much looks like an official email. All you have to do is click on the link to verify your Social Security number (or other types of personal identification).
Thieves will look very realistic, often using trusted brands and logos. Some even have a very real-looking email domain name. But stop and think about it. Why would your bank suddenly need this information?
If you’re really unsure, don’t reply or click on the email. Instead, call your bank right away from the phone number you find online to your local branch. Ask them if the email is real.
A fake check binds you to some action
You won an award! The check comes to you in the mail, and it looks very real, so you cash it. What you don’t realize is that by cashing the check, you agree to some type of action.
That could be paying a big fee for membership into a club or making recurring payments for months to come.
If you don’t know who sent the check to you, don’t sign it, deposit it, or think twice about it. Fake checks are a simple way to lock you into an agreement, often detailed on the back of the check or in the fine print of some letter.
An automatic debit that goes unnoticed
This scam occurs when the thief somehow gets your bank account number. They may do this by contacting you over email, on the phone, or through a text message. With this information, they set up a payment to them monthly that comes from your account.
If you use subscription services, like those for TV and movies, you may not notice the $5 to $10 transaction, but it’s occurring every month. That can add up very quickly and can be devastating if you’re trying to keep more money in your bank account.
A fake text message with a code
If you forget the log in to your bank account or the system forces you to verify your identity, you may receive a text message or email asking you to click a link to verify it’s really you. That’s a legitimate process if you initiate it.
However, theft occurs when you get a text message or email that looks very realistic, asking you to click a link to verify your login information. You worry someone else may be trying to log into your account, so you click the link.
The problem is it’s not real, and clicking that link exposes your information. If you didn’t just visit the site and request verification, it’s likely a scam.
You won, now pay up
Another scam involves a contest that you’ve supposedly won. You’ll receive a fabulous prize soon and all you have to do is pay the shipping fee. If you’re getting “Christmas Story” hope that you’ve won a major award, think again.
In these types of situations, you’ll be asked to pay for processing, shipping, taxes, or another fee. You do so in anticipation of a big prize, but nothing ever turns up except the charge in your bank account for the processing fee.
A company you worked with sends you an urgent request
Whether it’s your bank or another organization you’ve worked with, you may receive an email urging you to take action right away. There’s a limited amount of time to act and if you don’t, there are fines to pay, or you’ll miss out on something that you want.
Always verify the email address is actually real before taking action. Small changes in the domain name could be a clear indication it’s fake. Also, any financial institution that needs you to take immediate action is going to call you, not email you.
A new job requires you to buy a gift card
If you’re in the job market, receiving an offer can seem like such a relief. If the details are a bit sketchy, though, and you have to pay for anything, don’t do it. A legitimate employer never charges you to work for them.
In this scam, you’re required to set up your bank account information to activate a gift card. Your employer needs you to do this so that they can submit payment to you.
They ask you for your bank information and PIN (that PIN request is a clear warning!). Or, they may tell you that to access the funds on the gift card, you need to set up the account and pay a small fee to do so. They say they’ll pay you back for that fee, but they don’t.
Sharing your bank account information on a fake site
Whether it’s an “urgent” medical bill that needs to be paid or a donation request for a group you belong to, thieves can be very tricky when sending requests for money.
Some will capture your bank account information or your credit card number with promises of using those funds for some other need.
For example, you may receive an email that looks like it's from your doctor’s office. You click on the link, submit payment, and provide your personal information. The only problem is that your doctor never sent the email at all.
Split the winnings
You receive an email or text message claiming you’ll be receiving a check for a specific amount of money.
You get the check and are asked to wire some of the money to a third party, sometimes claiming that you received both your award and theirs. The check always bounces after you send that money to another party.
Your banking information is stolen
You do everything right and never fall for scams like the ones we’re talking about, but somehow, your account is hacked.
In some situations, a thief can purchase your personal information — including bank account information and credit card numbers from third parties that have obtained it. This one is hard to prevent except for simply not ever giving out this information online.
An account rep calls you over the phone
It’s your investment firm on the phone, requesting that you supply your account number, PIN, Social Security number, or anything else you will tell them. It’s a very official-sounding person, and you have a relationship with that bank so it’s easy to share whatever they ask.
However, the person on the phone isn’t from your bank. The easiest way to fix this is to ask for the person’s name. Then, hang up. Call the bank from the number you always use, not the one they’ve given to you.
Verify the information before providing anything online or via an incoming phone call. If you don’t then you may end up losing your money and finding yourself needing to climb out of debt.
The local police department needs a donation
A charity calls you, saying they're raising money for the local police department, hospital, EMTs, or some other organization asking for donations.
Except, they're not real, and not only do they get your approval to take funds from your account, but they also end up with your personal information to use again.
Again, hang up, call the organization, and verify everything before providing any information. Also, most law enforcement agencies don’t accept monetary donations like this. Take them some cookies instead if you want to help.
Online loan applications
You need some money, and you receive a “you’re qualified” offer in your email. You decide to try to get approval, click on the link, and input your information.
They gather your information, including your Social Security number, physical address, and bank account information (so they can wire you the funds). Unfortunately, they’ve just stolen your personal information.
Getting scammed is like throwing money away — only the damage can go much deeper. These scams are not always obvious, even for someone who thinks they would never fall for them.
In fact, the FTC reports 2.4 million people in the United States fell for a wide range of prizes, online shopping, and other investment schemes in 2022 alone.
Learning how to avoid foolish mistakes can protect yourself — and your money — from scammers trying to trick you.