Bank Impersonation Is the Most Common Text Scam: What You Need to Know
It can be hard to tell whether you’re being contacted by your bank or a criminal
If you have signed up for text notifications from your bank, it’s easy to mistake the scam texts for legitimate bank alerts. After all — as we all know — fraud is rampant.
“People are accustomed to getting texts from banks to prevent fraud,” notes Emma Fletcher, a senior data researcher in the Division of Consumer Response and Operations for the FTC. “There’s a certain irony that scammers are now using this to perpetrate fraud.”
How bank impersonation scams work
Bank-impersonation scammers pretend to be security departments at banks, and send out text messages, emails and robocalls that supposedly warn people of unusual, possibly fraudulent activity that requires immediate action. In reality, they’re trying to get people to provide account numbers and login information, or to transfer their funds for safekeeping into accounts controlled by the criminals. In the process, they also may steal targets’ personal information, which can be used to commit identity fraud.
Some fake bank notification texts warn that an account has been locked, while others ask the target to verify a large purchase that supposedly has been made at a store. “If they reply ‘no,’ which many people might do reflexively, they’ll get a call from someone claiming to be the bank,” Fletcher says.
How to protect yourself against bank text scams
Some tips from the American Bankers Association and other sources include:
- Never click on links on texts or emails in a text or email notification. Instead, go to the bank’s website (even if you’ve signed up for text alerts). Use the URL listed on your statements or that you’ve previously bookmarked, and check for any alerts on your account.
- If you get a robocall or call from someone claiming to be from your bank, hang up. Then contact your bank in a way you know to be legitimate, either online or by calling the phone number on your statement or debit card.
- Never provide account data or personal info. As ABA’s Banksneveraskthat.com website explains, “our bank will never ask for your PIN, password, or one-time login code in a text message. If you receive a text message asking for personal information, it’s a scam.”
- Don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technological tricks to display actual bank phone numbers or even the name of the bank.
- Be wary of a message or caller insisting that you take immediate action. Scammers try to put you under pressure to act quickly, to make it more difficult for you to think clearly.
- When in doubt, seek assistance. If you’re unsure what to do in response to what appears to be an alert from your bank, stop and ask a trusted person — a friend, family member or coworker — to help you.
Reporting bank impersonation scams
If you experience a bank impersonation attempt, notify your financial institution of the occurrence. Include a screenshot of the text. If you lose money to this scam, contact your bank immediately — they may be able to halt the transaction.
File a police report. The documentation may be of value if there is some means of recouping your loss; for example, some home insurance providers offer fraud loss protection.
File reports with the federal government. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center use fraud reports to target their investigations; the more information they have, the better they can identify patterns, link cases and ultimately catch the criminals. Contact the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov and the FBI at IC3.gov.