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Illustration of a scam letter in an envelope
Illustration of a scam letter in an envelope
Illustration of a scam letter in an envelope
updated july 16, 2021.

4 great questions to ask!

When it comes to financial fraud and identity theft, it pays to be skeptical of others wanting something. And it pays to ask a few questions before you act.

  1. Does the offer make sense?
  2. Is it too good to be true?
  3. Was I expecting this to happen?
  4. Would my banker, local law enforcement, or other trusted experts encourage me to pursue this deal?

Scams are numerous, creative, and by all accounts, highly effective, bilking consumers and businesses out of billions of dollars annually. There's a scam for online dating and one for bogus tech support. There's one for winning the lottery and one for secret shoppers. There's even one for pet adoption.

"We want to believe no one would betray us, but criminals will do just about anything to talk you out of your money," says Jim Fuher, STCU's security and fraud prevention manager. "No matter how much we hear about fraud, people will still fall for scams because they want to believe the offer is true."

By taking time to first ask the four questions listed above, Fuher says you can avoid getting trapped by most scams.

“Criminals will do just about anything to talk you out of your money," Fuher says.

Say, for instance, you receive a letter that you’ve won the lottery. Your first question should be: “Was I expecting this? When did I buy a ticket?” Or say someone claiming to be an IRS agent calls, demanding payment on back taxes. Your first question should be: “Does this make sense? Where’s the documentation to prove I owe money? What is your agent ID number, so I can verify your request at my local IRS office.”

"Few people wait to see if a check is counterfeit or if the claim is true," Fuher says. "They buckle under pressure from the crook to act immediately."

Was that STCU? Or a scam?

If you get an unsolicited call or text claiming to be from STCU, it's OK to be suspicious. If the caller asks for personal information about your account, then hang up immediately!

If STCU contacts you, we will verify your identity. We won’t ask for the information we already have on file such as your full card numbers or Social Security number. We won't ask for your online banking password or your personal identification number (PIN), because you set those up privately for only you to know.

Call us right away to let us know what happened, and we’ll tell you if the call was legitimate.

Be proactive. Protect yourself!

In addition to asking tough questions first, there are 10 steps from the Federal Trade Commission and STCU that you can take to proactively protect yourself from fraud and identity theft:

  1. Lock it up. Secure your information from roommates, friends, repairmen, or others who come into your home, office, or car. Shred everything you no longer need such as old bank statements, expired charge cards, and credit card offers.
  2. Two cards only. Stop using your car, purse, or laptop as a mobile office, where thieves can easily steal your account information and identity. Pare down your wallet to two essentials — a driver's license and a credit card, debit card, or checkbook.
  3. Ask why? Be slow to share your personal information. Instead, ask your employer, businesses you frequent, your child's school, your doctor's office, and so on why they need your private information? Ask how they will safeguard it.
  4. Keep your private life off social media. Don't discuss travel plans, work schedules, and other life patterns on Facebook or other social media where stalkers and thieves could view. Never share your Social Security number, phone number, or account information.
  5. Never trust a stranger. Do not give out personal information by phone, mail, or email unless you first initiated contact or you know the person. Never pay fees first for the promise of a bigger payoff later, whether it's for a loan, a job, a grant, lottery winnings, or a prize.
  6. Do nothing under pressure. If someone calls, demanding immediate payment, it's probably a scam. If a buyer calls or emails, asking you to cash a check made out to more than the sale price, it's a scam.
  7. Never agree to deposit a check or wire money. By law, you are responsible for any checks you deposit. No matter that you are the victim, if a check is counterfeit, you're responsible to pay it back to the bank.
  8. Don't click on the link. Never click on links in an email or call phone numbers included in the message from someone you do not know. Crooks are "phishing" for you to reveal sensitive information that they'll later use to commit identity theft. More about "phishing texts."
  9. Deal direct when selling online. According to Craigslist, you can avoid 99 percent of all fraud attempts by dealing directly with a buyer or seller. If possible, meet the other party in person at a safe, public place such as your local police station, and transact all deals in cash.
  10. Never go it alone. Isolation makes you vulnerable. In the "granny scam," for example, a young person calls a senior citizen claiming to be their grandson or granddaughter who needs money. They tell you not to notify their parents in an attempt to isolate you from learning that the call is a scam.

In addition, Fuher suggests that you regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts, looking for any checks or charges you did not make. Use strong passwords for your computers, credit cards, bank, and other accounts, changing them occasionally. (A strong password should include several letters, numbers, and symbols in an order that only you can remember.)

If you're planning to travel, notify STCU or your other financial institutions in advance, so we can help compare your legitimate payment activity from any possible scams. If you have any doubts about a check or offer, show it to your banker or law enforcement officer.

By exercising suspicion — and asking questions before you act — you'll stay safe from the growing number of fraud and identity theft attempts.

If you think you may have been scammed, do the following:

  • Notify the financial institution where you keep your accounts or credit cards.
  • For identity theft, follow the steps provided by the Federal Trade Commission.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Report scams to the Washington State or Idaho State attorney generals’ office.
  • Alert the national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.
  • If you receive materials about a foreign lottery, take it to your local postmaster.

Other websites you may find helpful:

Free workshop!

Learn more about protecting yourself. Join us for the next free STCU Preventing Fraud and Identity Theft Workshop. Check the schedule.

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