The news often includes reports about thieves gaining access to sensitive personal
information that can be used to commit fraud or steal money, sometimes
involving major security breaches at large companies such as retailers. "These
reports may cause some consumers to be skeptical about engaging in even the
simplest financial transactions, but that is unrealistic for most people,
especially in today's online and electronic world," said Michael Benardo, Chief
of the FDIC's Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "That's why it's
important to be vigilant about protecting your finances by taking some
While federal laws and industry practices generally limit losses for unauthorized
transactions involving bank accounts, debit cards and credit cards, it pays to
be proactive. Here are 10 things you can do to help protect yourself:
1. Know that offers that seem "too good to be true" are
probably a fraud. Crooks often pose as
businesses promising or guaranteeing high interest rates, high-paying jobs or
other "opportunities," such as a big prize or lottery winnings for which you
must pay taxes or other charges upfront. Be especially careful if someone
pressures you to make a quick decision or if you are asked to send money or
provide bank account information before receiving anything in return.
2. Guard against scams involving fraudulent checks and
requests to wire money or send a prepaid card. A stranger or unfamiliar company might send you a check
for more than you are due for an online sale and ask you to deposit the check
and wire back the difference. Or, you might be asked to send a prepaid card to
the crook. "If you
send a wire transfer or a prepaid card, the money is immediately removed from
your account, but the check you deposited may not have cleared. If that check
is counterfeit, your financial institution would likely hold you responsible
for the losses," said Benardo.
"Also," he added, "if you are selling something online, be wary of a request by a
'buyer' to wire you the money because that may be a ruse to get your
bank account information."
3. Be suspicious about unsolicited e-mails or text
messages asking you to click on a link or open an attachment. Crooks are known to distribute and install malicious
software ("malware") that can capture passwords and PIN numbers. This
information could be used to gain access to your online banking sites.
4. Don't give out personal information to anyone unless
you initiate the contact and know the other party is reputable. "Crooks pretending to be from legitimate companies or
government agencies often contact people asking them to 'confirm' or 'update'
confidential information," explained Kathryn Weatherby, a fraud examination
specialist for the FDIC. "But your bank, credit card issuer and government
agencies would never contact you asking for personal details such as bank
account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers and
passwords. Presume that any such request by phone, text message, fax, e-mail or
letter is fraudulent."
5. Carefully choose user IDs and passwords for your
computers, mobile devices, and online accounts. For unlocking devices and logging into Web sites and
apps, create "strong" IDs and passwords with combinations of upper- and
lower-case letters, numbers and symbols that are hard to guess, and then change
6. Be careful when using social networking sites. Scammers use social networking sites to gather details
about individuals, such as their place or date of birth, a pet's name, their
mother's maiden name, and other information that can help them figure out
passwords — or how to reset them. Even small tidbits of information can help
them steal your identity, such as by answering security questions that control
access to accounts. "Don't share your 'page' or access to your information with
anyone you don't know and trust," said Benardo. "Criminals may pretend to be
your 'friend' to convince you to send money or divulge personal information."
Fraudsters also have become sophisticated at creating fake social networking sites for
financial institutions and other businesses.
7. Regularly review your transaction history. Look at your bank statements, credit card bills or other
transaction histories – preferably as soon as they arrive – and make sure you
had authorized all of the transactions. Immediately report to your financial
institution any suspicious activity, such as an unfamiliar charge. "Many
financial services providers allow you to conveniently check your transaction
history on their Web site or through an app on a mobile device," noted
8. Periodically review your credit reports to make sure
someone hasn't obtained a credit card or a loan in your name. Ask for a free copy from each of the nation's three
major credit reporting agencies (also known as credit bureaus) because their
reports may differ, but spread out the requests during the year. For more
information and to order a report, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call
If you find an unfamiliar account on your report, call the fraud department at the
credit reporting agency that produced it. If the account turns out to be
fraudulent, ask for a fraud alert to be placed in your file at all three of the
major credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports
that you have been a victim of fraud and to verify any new accounts or changes
to accounts in your name.
9. Protect your personal financial documents. Keep bank and credit card statements, tax returns and
blank checks in a secure place. And, shred any sensitive documents instead of
just throwing them in the trash, because thieves look through trash to find
this type of information to commit identity theft or other crimes.
10. Guard your incoming and outgoing mail. From time to time, your mailbox may contain credit card
or bank statements, documents showing confidential information, or checks you
are sending. For incoming mail, try to use a locked mailbox or a mailbox in a
secure location. Put outgoing mail, especially if it contains a check or personal
information, in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or take it to the post office.