Member Education

Phishing Scams

Don't Take the Bait
There's a new sport in town that involves some real poachers. It's called "phishing"--and the phishermen are trolling for you.

Phishers use spam--unwanted email--to lure people into fake Web sites to obtain personal information and commit identity theft. Victims receive fraudulent emails containing authentic looking logos and familiar graphics. They often will lead to a "spoofed," or fake site that looks authentic. You're asked to divulge account information or other personal data such as usernames, passwords, and Social Security numbers.

Your credit union never will send you an email--or call you by phone--asking for personal data. We already have this information.

Studies show that most identity theft still occurs when thieves obtain information from paper--by digging through trash cans or stealing from mailboxes. Even so, it's a fact that even the most tech-savvy people can be victims of phishing attacks.

Take these measures to help avoid becoming the "catch" of the day:

Be a cautious Internet user.

  • Install a firewall as your first line of defense. This is the primary block between you and other computers on the network. Also install, run, and update antivirus and antispyware programs.

  • Ensure your browser is up-to-date with security patches.

  • Never use e-links with email to visit a Web site. Open a new browser window and type the URL (uniform resource locator) in the address bar.

  • Don't fill out emailed forms that ask for personal information. The only way you should send credit card or account information is via a secure Web site--you'll see https (s for secure) and the padlock icon on the browser frame; click on the lock to view the security certificate.

  • Be cautious of urgent emails requesting personal information. Phony emails often include upsetting or exciting statements to get people to respond. Don't. If a company or financial institution really needs to update your expired credit card number, for instance, you'll be able to take care of it the next time you make a transaction, or by a telephone call you place to the company's customer service number on the card.

  • Be suspicious if someone claiming to be from your financial institution asks for confidential information. This information should already be on file.

  • Always review statements closely. Report any suspicious activity immediately to whomever the statement is from. If you generally receive statements by mail, call the company if a statement is late to make sure an ID thief hasn't redirected your mail by changing your address.

  • If you have online access, monitor your accounts frequently. That assures you'll notice unauthorized transactions promptly and can take steps to prevent more transactions.

  • Change your online banking and shopping account passwords often--experts suggest every three to six months. If your information is caught, your passwords should be out-of-date by the time crooks try to sell the data to other phishers. Experts recommend using passwords with a combination of letters (upper and lowercase), numbers, and symbols.

  • Request a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit-reporting agencies--Experian (, 888-397-3742); Equifax (, 800-685-1111); and TransUnion (, 800-888-4213). The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) requires each major credit bureau to provide one free credit report annually to consumers who request a copy (, 877-322-8228).

  • If you've mistakenly taken the bait, call the company that's been spoofed right away. If you're quick enough, you might be able to change your password or account number in time to stop unauthorized transactions.

Check/Money Order Scams

Beware of these mail, email and fax scams that can leave you owing money!

  • What You Should Know

  • What You Should Do

Fake Check Scams Can Leave YOU Holding the Bag!
If someone you don't know wants to pay you by check...but wants you to wire some of the money back, beware! It is most likely a scam that could cost you thousands of dollars. There are many variations of this fake check scam. It usually starts with someone offering to:

  • Give you the first installment on the millions you'll receive for agreeing to transfer money from a foreign country to your account for safekeeping;

  • Buy something you advertised;

  • Give you an "advance" on a sweepstakes you've won.

The scammers often claim to be outside the US, saying they cannot pay you directly, and that they will have someone who owes them money send you a check or money order.

The amount of the check or money order may be more than you are owed, so you are instructed to deposit it and wire the balance to the scammer or to someone else. Or you are told to wire some of the money back to pay a fee to claim your "winnings." In either event, the crooks send a phony check or money order with instructions to deposit it in your account. When you check your balance, it looks like the funds have arrived. After you have wired the money back to the scammer, you learn that the check or money order has bounced--you are left holding the bag!

Bounced Checks Can Cost You
These fake checks and money orders look so real that even credit union tellers may be fooled. Just because you can withdraw the money doesn't mean the check is good. Forgeries can take weeks to be discovered.


It is important to keep in mind that under the law, you are responsible for the checks and money orders you deposit because you are in the best position to determine how risky the transaction is. When a check or money order bounces, you owe your financial institution the money you withdrew.

How Scammers Find Their Victims
Fake check scammers use a variety of sources to identify their victims. They:

  • scan newspaper and online advertisements for people listing items for sale

  • check postings on online job sites from people seeking employment

  • place their own ads with phone numbers or email addresses for people to contact them

  • call or send emails, letters or faxes to people randomly, knowing that some will take the bait.

What You Should Do
There is no legitimate reason for someone who is giving you money to ask you to wire money back - that is a clear sign of a scam. If someone you do not know wants to pay you for something, insist on a cashiers check for the exact amount, preferably from a local financial institution or one with a branch in your area.

If you think someone is trying to pull a fake check scam, don't deposit it -- report it! Contact the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center, or (800) 876-7060. There are also more detailed tips about fake check scams in the telemarketing and Internet fraud sections of the Web site.

ID Theft

What is it?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, "identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes."

Why does it happen?
Identity theft occurs primarily as a means to obtain fraudulent financial gain. It can also occur when an individual attempts to thwart detection by assuming another identity.

Who is the target?
Anyone, particularly people who are likely to easily provide personal identification such as social security number, credit card numbers, or other unique identifiers.

Why is it increasing?
"Phishing" scams, an email-based scam that attempts to harvest personal financial information, accounts for a large number of identity theft crimes. The FTC estimates that 1 in 20 people who receive a phishing email fall for the scam and provide their confidential information! The FTC also states that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America.

How do I prevent becoming a victim of identity theft?

  • Keep informed. Visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at for more information.

  • Always be cautious when providing your personal financial information and ensure the request is legitimate. Do not pre-print or hand-write your Social Security Number on checks. Do not provide personal financial information if prompted to do so by an unsolicited email—no legitimate business would lightly request that information.

  • Use a shredder to destroy papers containing your personal financial or confidential information, including statements, health insurance forms, credit card information, etc. Secure confidential documentation in your home so it's not easily obtained by unauthorized individuals.

  • Carefully monitor your financial statements and report unauthorized transactions or discrepancies immediately.

  • Retrieve a credit report at least once a year and review for accuracy. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 provides a FREE credit report upon request every 12 months. This act's intention is to allow consumers to keep a close watch on their financial histories. You have the following options to access your report:

    • Online:

    • Phone: (877) 322-8228

    • Mail: Consumers need to complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form, which is available through the Federal Trade Commission's site at or by calling the number listed above. The form should be mailed to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta GA 30348-5281

    • The Federal Trade Commission is also offering a brochure called " Your Access To Free Credit Reports". The brochure is available online through the agency's site or by calling (877) FTC-HELP.

  • To retrieve more frequent credit reports and to establish credit alerts, consider pursuing a subscription service with one of the credit bureaus. Information can be obtained at:

  • Drop envelopes containing paid bills or other confidential information in postal drop boxes, or at the post office. Don't leave them in an unsecured mailbox for pickup by the carrier.

  • Never carry your Social Security card or birth certificate unless absolutely necessary. Likewise, remove any credit cards from your wallet that you don't need to have physically accessible, and store in a secured area.

  • When conducting business online, make sure you read the company's privacy policy to ensure they'll protect your confidential information. Be sure the site is a secured site (https://) and that the session has a padlock in the lower right of your screen before entering confidential information.

What do I do if I suspect I'm the victim of identity theft?
Follow the instructions provided at Review the instructions at least once a year to have an understanding of what is recommended procedure, and keep a printout available in the event you must follow them.

Where can I go for more information?

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