Scammers impersonating Financial Institutions.
Be diligent and take caution when asked to provide personal information concerning your finances or accounts, especially if you did not initiate the inquiry. Penn State Federal will never call you to ask for your account number, password, PIN, or other sensitive information. We will not send you a text message asking you to login using a link or call and ask you for your account login credentials.
Stay Alert. Stay Informed. Protect Yourself Against Fraud.
Don't be a victim of fraud or scams. Visit the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) website at www.ftc.gov to learn more about recent scams, getting a free credit report, reporting identity theft and more.
You can also help protect yourself from fraud when using your Visa credit or debit card. Click here to learn what types of fraud exist and how to prevent them when making in-store purchases and shopping online.
Scammers are constantly finding new ways to steal your money. You can protect yourself by knowing what to look out for.
Common Types of Fraud and Scams
Here are some of the most common types of fraud and scams. Learn what to watch for and what steps to take to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your money safe.
A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you.
These kinds of scams often increase during the holiday season as well as around natural disasters and emergencies, such as storms, wildfires, or earthquakes. Be careful when any charity calls to ask for donations, especially ones that suggest they’re following up on a donation pledge you don’t remember making.
What to do: Ask for detailed information about the charity, including address and phone number. Look up the charity through their website or a trusted third-party source to confirm that the charity is real.
Debt Collection Scams
Most debt collectors will contact you to collect on legitimate debts you owe. But there are scammers who pose as debt collectors to get you to pay for debts you don't owe or ones you’ve already paid.
What to do: Don’t provide any personal financial information until you can verify the debt.
Debt Settlement and Debt Relief Scams
Debt settlement or relief companies often promise to renegotiate, settle, or in some way change the terms of a person's debt to a creditor or debt collector. Dealing with debt settlement companies, though, can be risky and could leave you even further in debt.
What to do: Avoid doing business with any company that guarantees they can settle your debts, especially those that charge up-front fees before performing any services. Instead, you can work with a free or nonprofit credit counseling program that can help you work with your creditors.
Foreclosure Relief or Mortgage Loan Modification Scams
Foreclosure relief or mortgage loan modification scams are schemes to take your money or your house, often by making a false promise of saving you from foreclosure. Scammers may ask you to pay upfront fees for their service, guarantee a loan modification, or ask you to sign over the title of your property, or sign paperwork you don’t understand.
What to do: If you are having trouble making payments on your mortgage, a HUD-approved housing counseling agency can help you assess your options and avoid scams. If you think you may have been a victim of a foreclosure relief scam, you may also want to consult an attorney.
If you get a call from someone who sounds like a grandchild or relative asking you to wire or transfer money or send gift cards to help them out of trouble, it could be a scam.
Imposter scammers try to convince you to send money by pretending to be someone you know or trust like a sheriff; local, state, or federal government employee; or charity organization.
What to do: Remember, caller ID can be faked. You can always call the organization or government agency and ask if the person works for them before giving any money.
Mail fraud letters look real, but the promises are fake. A common warning sign is a letter asking you to send money or personal information now to receive something of value later. Examples of mail fraud might include notices of prizes, sweepstakes winnings, vacations, and other offers to claim valuable items.
Money Mule Scams
A money mule is someone who receives and moves money that came from victims of fraud. While some money mules know they’re assisting with criminal activity, others are unaware that their actions are helping fraudsters.
Money mules may be recruited through online job or social media posts that promise easy money for little effort. They may also agree to help a love interest who they’ve met online or over the phone, by sending or receiving money, as part of a romance scam.
What to do: Don’t agree to receive or send money or packages for people you either don’t know or haven’t met. Also, be aware of jobs that promise easy money.
Money Transfer or Mobile Payment Services Fraud
Con artists use money transfers to steal people’s money. If someone you don’t know asks you to send money to them, it should be a red flag. Scammers also use mobile payment services to trick people into sending money or merchandise without holding up their end of the deal. For example, a scammer may sell you concert or sports tickets but then never actually give them to you. Or a scammer might purchase an item from you, appear to send a payment, and then cancel it before it reaches your bank account.
Using mobile payment services with family, friends, and others you know, and trust is the safest way to protect your money. You should also be cautious when people you do know ask you to send them money. Before you send money, verify that they are the ones requesting it.
What to do: Never send money to someone you don’t know. If you think you made a money transfer to a scammer, contact your bank or the company you used to send the money immediately and alert them that there may have been a mistake.
Mortgage Closing Scams
Mortgage closing scams target homebuyers who are nearing the closing date on their mortgage loan. The scammer attempts to steal the homebuyer's closing funds—for example, their down payment and closing costs—by sending the homebuyer an email posing as the homebuyer's real estate agent or settlement agent (title company, escrow officer, or attorney).
What to do: These schemes are often complex and appear as legitimate conversations with your real estate or settlement agent. When you’re about to close on your home, take several steps, including identifying trusted individuals to confirm the process and payment instructions and writing down their names and contact information so you can reach out to them directly. Learn more about what steps you should take to help protect your closing funds.
Lottery or Prize Scams
In a lottery or prize scam, the scammers may call or email to tell you that you’ve won a prize through a lottery or sweepstakes and then ask you to pay an upfront payment for fees and taxes. In some cases, they may claim to be from a federal government agency.
What to do: Avoid providing any personal or financial information, including credit cards or Social Security numbers, to anyone you don’t know. Also, never make an upfront payment for a promised prize, especially if they demand immediate payment.
A romance scam is when a new love interest tricks you into falling for them when they just want your money. Romance scams start in a few different ways, usually online. Scammers may also spend time getting to know you and developing trust before asking you for a loan or for access to your finances.
What to do: Be smart about who you connect with and what information you share online. Don’t share sensitive personal information, such as bank account or credit card numbers or a Social Security number, with a new love connection.
Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams are an industry-wide issue where scammers use scare tactics to trick you into unnecessary technical support services to supposedly fix device or software problems that don't exist.
At best, the scammers are trying to get you to pay them to "fix" a nonexistent problem with your device or software. At worst, they're trying to steal your personal or financial information; and if you allow them to remote into your computer to perform this "fix," they will often install malware, ransomware, or other unwanted programs that can steal your information or damage your data or device.
Common Payment Methods Used by Scammers
Never send money to someone you don’t know. Scammers use a variety of ways to collect money from you, including:
- Wire transfers
- Person-to-person payment services and mobile payment apps
- Gift cards
ID Theft Glossary
- Identity Theft
- Identity theft is when someone uses your name, social security number or other personal information to establish accounts in your name.
- Mail Fraud
- Mail fraud is still the number one form of fraud in the US. Identity thieves steal your mail, which may include pre-approved credit card applications, to obtain your personal information.
- Short for “malicious software,” it refers to any harmful software that affects your computer. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses or spyware.
- When hackers redirect internet traffic from one website to a different, identical-looking site in order to trick you into entering your username and password into the database on their fake site.
- The act of tricking someone into giving them confidential information or tricking them into doing something that they normally wouldn’t do or shouldn’t do. For example: sending an e-mail to a user falsely claiming to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft.
- Pretexting is the collection of an individual’s personal information under false pretenses typically over the phone or via e-mail.
- Shoulder Surfing
- Shoulder surfing is the name given to the procedure that identity thieves use to find out your PIN. They either hang around close to the ATM, or wherever you may be entering your PIN, or they can even watch from a distance, using binoculars.
- Skimming is another method identity thieves use to get your personal information. It’s usually done by an employee of a restaurant, a gas station or any other place where you swipe your card. Often, they use swiping tools, which they use to quickly swipe your card. A good way to prevent skimming is to never let your card out of your sight.
- Unsolicited commercial emails. Many of these come from legitimate companies but many also come from questionable businesses.
- A fraudulent website or email that appears to be from a well-known company and attempts to get you to provide, update or confirm personal information. Similar to pharming.
- General term for any technology that gathers information about a person or organization without their knowledge. Advertisers or other interested parties often use spyware programming to gather and relay information.
- Trojans piggyback themselves inside something that you actually want, like the old Trojan Horse story. For example, you download a video game, and you actually do get the video game you wanted, but you get the trojan packed along with it. You can avoid trojans by only downloading files from trusted sources.
- A virus is malware that can copy itself, like a biological virus. It usually lies dormant inside of an executable file until someone runs that file. When run, the virus may spread to other executable files on your system. You can avoid viruses by scanning files, especially downloaded files and email attachments, with anti-virus software.
- Using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone numbers to steal user information.
- A worm also self-replicates, but spreads from computer to computer using the internet. Unlike a virus, the user need not download or run a file to become infected. You need to only be connected to the internet in order to become infected by a worm. You can avoid worms by using a firewall.