• 1. Gift cards, secret shoppers and the allure of fake offers

    This scam works as follows: consumers are drawn in by a phony e-mail or social media post to become a “secret shopper” in exchange for some form of financial gain. 

    When a consumer agrees to participate, the fraudster seals the deal by delivering a very large counterfeit check. The criminal then asks the consumer to deposit the check and purchase gift cards with the funds – keeping a small portion of the proceeds as compensation for being the “secret shopper.” 

    The victim here (a loose term, considering that most people will realize this is a scam!) is asked to e-mail photographs of the gift cards, front and back, so the criminal can use them immediately – before the counterfeit check has a chance to bounce. 

  • 2. “You can never be too rich or too thin” – and other e-mail scams

    Some consumers are attracted to “get rich” and “get thin” offers, and unfortunately an age-old diet scam has surfaced again, targeting consumers with spam e-mails. When an unwitting consumer signs up for the “self-improvement” deal, that individual agrees to recurring billing for the proposed service. 

  • 3. Account takeover schemes

    This scheme is dangerous for both credit unions and service providers and to their members. Social engineers, often armed with data from recent breaches, call into financial institutions on a regular basis, posing as customers or members looking to take over their accounts. And, it can be difficult for credit union employees to tell the difference because these criminals dial in with answers to the member’s authentication questions (which they have sourced from the dark web). 

  • 4. Counterfeit money orders

    Fake money orders are frequently used for online purchases from websites like Craigslist. The problem is that high-quality counterfeit money orders are hard to distinguish from the real thing. 

  • 5. “MSN” help desk fraud

    This form of fraud is usually directed at the elderly. A criminal calls an unsuspecting consumer and warns that his or her PC – however seldom used – is riddled with viruses. 

    The fake technician offers to assist, and then dispatches the victim to a local big box store to buy prepaid gift cards which are given as payment for the tech support services. 

    Some big box stores have started to try and identify consumers who may be embroiled in these scams, but they can run into roadblocks when victims are either mentally incapacitated – or reluctant to admit they have fallen for a scam. 

  • 6. Card cracking

    This rip-off scheme typically victimizes our youth. A fraudster reaches out to a young person via social media and convinces the potential victim that they can both benefit by helping each other out – with the young account holder receiving a small sum – $100 or so – as compensation for cooperating with the fraudster. 

    The victim then gives the criminal access to his or her online banking credentials, so the criminal can deposit counterfeit checks into the account. 

    The fraudster also typically requires the usage of the account holder’s debit card and, in some cases, accompanies the co-conspirator to an ATM to perform withdrawals against the counterfeit checks that have been deposited. This is especially troubling if the account holder is a minor in the company of an adult criminal. 

  • 7. Direct mail scams

    Bogus – but official-looking – letters are delivered every day to random consumers with stern requests for social security numbers and other personally identifiable information. 

    Some of these letters are printed on what looks like big bank letterhead and, in all cases, there is at least one “official looking” hard-copy form that the consumer is asked to fill out and return. 

    The main objective here is identity theft. This scam can be very convincing to consumers because the U.S. Postal Service has not been a criminal mainstay since the proliferation of e-mail in the mid-1990s. 

    Bottom Line: An informed consumer is an empowered one. Teaching members to recognize the signs of fraud will both reduce their risk and inspire their trust. 

By John Buzzard, Industry Fraud Specialist for CO-OP