Phishing Scams and How to Avoid Them

January 27, 2022 by Spectrum Credit Union

It’s an unfortunate statistic: The pandemic has fueled an epidemic of money-targeted scams — so much so that 60% of Americans surveyed in the last year now view a financial loss caused by identity theft as almost inevitable. And among all the methods used by fraudsters to try to compromise personal information and funds, phishing ranks as the top type of reported fraud, according to the latest data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Here are the current trends to be aware of.

What are today’s evolving scams?

Phishing attacks set historical records in July 2021, and their numbers have doubled since early 2020, reports the nonprofit Anti-Phishing Working Group, whose membership includes financial institutions, government agencies and law enforcement. Here are a few concerning scams that are increasing in frequency.

Malicious QR codes. The square barcodes that our smartphones can scan and read for contactless access to sites, apps or payment portals saw dramatic growth during the pandemic. This convenient technology is being targeted by identity thieves, who tamper with the code, redirect and phish for location, personal and financial information, according to an FBI consumer alert issued mid-January.

Student loan relief scams. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cautions borrowers with federal student loans that scammers are preying on consumer confusion over the latest government extension of the pause on payments through May 1. Unsolicited offers by companies claiming to enroll you in the temporary relief program are bogus.

Taxpayer fraud. The IRS continues to warn taxpayers and tax professionals alike about what it calls a surge in email and phone phishing schemes trying to trick people into providing personal and financial information, including Social Security Numbers, bank account or credit card access, citing bogus claims like filing errors or fake refunds.

What are the signs of potential scams?

Knowing how to spot the warning signs of scams is an important step in stopping fraud before it has a chance to happen. But with the increasing sophistication and personalization of phishing attempts today, recognizing them can be easier said than done. Today’s schemes often look authentic, and they usually tend to create a sense of urgency in the hopes of encouraging a panicked reaction.

Be on guard by being alert to these common red flags of phishing emails, texts and calls that the FTC identifies:

They impersonate a company you know or trust. They may look like they’re from a financial institution, a credit card company, a social networking site, an online payment website or app, or an online store. Texts or calls from scammers can even appear to be a local number, making it more difficult to discern who is behind it.

They tell a story to trick you into clicking a link or opening an attachment. For example, messages may:

  • Say they’ve noticed suspicious activity or log-in attempts
  • Claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information
  • Say you must confirm some personal information
  • Include a fake invoice
  • Want you to click on a link to make a payment
  • Say you’re eligible to register for a government refund

You can also stay abreast of the type and volume of fraud complaints in your state reported to the FTC by checking its Consumer Sentinel Network database, updated daily.

What should I do if I become a phishing victim?

Successful phishing can lead to account takeovers and identity theft. If you fear that your personal and financial information has been compromised, head to IdentityTheft.gov, which is the federal government’s one-stop site for recovery guidance and resources. Here you can browse crucial steps to take right away and actions to put in place for certain accounts that can help contain the damage and restore your security. 

Staying ahead of the game

Spectrum Credit Union has a multi-layered fraud defense in place to protect your money. But combating financial fraud is a team effort. Knowledge is power when it comes to fraud prevention, so get the details about all of our safety and security safeguards, as well as review specific security tips you can take by visiting Security Central.


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