Financial Fitness

Three Ways to Help Arm Yourself Against Financial Fraud

Learn strategies for staying safe—plus steps to take if you think you're being targeted.

by Michael W. Brough - August 19, 2019

When several St. Louis residents received phone calls about missing jury duty, the caller threatened jail time if they didn’t pay a fine by providing their credit card numbers over the phone. The incidents turned out to be financial fraud, criminal attempts to steal and deceive, using phone calls, robocalls, or text messages to lure potential victims.

Angela Amighetti-Bell, a Compliance Consultant at Wells Fargo Advisors, and Lauree Peterson-Sakai, a Wells Fargo Elder Strategy Leader at Wells Fargo Advisors, say those jury-duty-fine incidents serve as a reminder to be increasingly watchful for the many forms of financial fraud.

Here, they offer tips to help you spot (and avoid) financial fraud, and also recommendations for what to do if you think you’re being targeted:

Three actions to help protect yourself against financial fraud

Graphic showing a family portrait on a smartphone and desktop to illustrate the need to limit the personal information you post on social media.
  • 1. Limit the personal information you post on social media. “Criminals can make up convincing stories with details they get from your posts … including the names of your friends and family, where you work, and when you’re on vacation,” Peterson-Sakai says. Using that information, for example, they can concoct requests for money from supposedly jailed or hospitalized relatives.
Graphic showing a question mark, a checkmark, and an exclamation point emanating from a laptop screen to illustrate being vigilant about imposters.
  • 2. Be vigilant about imposters. If you get an unexpected email purporting to be from a business you would ordinarily trust, it could be a phishing scam. The fraudster is attempting to use fake emails or texts to retrieve your valuable information. Email-based financial fraud often includes familiar company names or strangers pretending to be someone you know, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Criminals can also spoof phone numbers, meaning they can conceal the actual number they’re calling you from. Don’t rely on caller ID to verify that you’re speaking with someone from a legitimate organization. When in doubt, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request.
Graphic showing chat bubbles on a computer screen to illustrate the need to keep up with the latest warnings and information about financial fraud.
    • 3. Stay educated. “Financial fraud schemes are morphing all the time,” Peterson-Sakai says. Pay attention to the latest warnings and information about financial fraud to help avoid falling prey. The FTC emails free scam alerts, which you can sign up for at ftc.gov/scams. You can also find information on current fraud from credible sources such as the Better Business Bureau or AARP.

Remember that older family members may need help with this, as well. A 2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey found that 98% of seniors and their kids agreed that older adults are more susceptible to financial fraud. Wells Fargo Advisors has a dedicated guide of recommendations to help keep older loved ones safe.

What to do if you think you’re a target

  • Seek advice. Talk with someone you trust if you suspect something’s awry. “If you get a suspicious call saying your grandchild is in jail, for example, call his or her parents before offering any information,” Amighetti-Bell says. A CPA, attorney, or financial advisor can also serve as a good resource. If you can’t think of anyone to turn to, call the police nonemergency number in your area.
  • Check with state and federal authorities. Your state’s consumer protection office can offer information on where to report a case of possible financial fraud.
  • The FTC also has an online complaint assistant form you can fill out based on the type of financial fraud you believe is being committed. Categories include “rip-offs and imposter scams,” “unwanted telemarketing, text, or spam” and “credit and debt.”
Graphic showing “NO ACCESS” on a computer monitor to illustrate considering putting a credit freeze on your report if you think you’re a target.
  • Consider putting a credit freeze on your report. One proactive measure you can take against identity theft is to place a credit freeze on your report. This freeze will restrict access to your credit report, which can make it harder for thieves to open new accounts in your name. It’s free to enact a freeze, and you can unfreeze the report for a short window when you are applying for a loan, making a large purchase, or taking another credit-related action.

Michael W. Brough is a Texas-based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, and other outlets.

Images by iStock

Additional Resources

What can you do to help protect seniors from money scams?