Every now and then we like to pass along a warning about a scam we’ve run across recently – especially those that are particularly convincing or easy to fall for. And yesterday I personally experienced a good one.
It came in the form of a cell phone call, in which an automated voice said it was from Bank of America, warning me that a recent charge to my account had been declined as potentially fraudulent, and that the account was now frozen due to the suspicious activity. Then it asked me to call a toll-free number for further information.
Like most of us, I’ve received many fake calls (and texts, and emails) like this in the past, so I’m always a bit suspicious…but the fakes almost always include some sort of clumsy tip-off. Either the named bank is one where I don’t have any accounts…or the poor grammar in the message makes it obvious it’s not coming from an actual commercial financial institution…or there’s an email address or link included in the message that clearly doesn’t connect to the named bank. So I’m always alert for those kinds of “tells.”
But unlike the usual clumsy fakes, this one actually hit all the right notes – it named a bank where I do business, it provided information about a transaction I didn’t recognize as my own, and the rest of the script was completely familiar from other proactive and legitimate bank fraud warnings I’ve received in the past.
So it was very tempting to immediately call back as requested. And I almost did. But then I paused, hung up the phone, and instead logged into my account online. And when I did, I found no fraud alerts, and no notices that my account was frozen as a result of a supposedly fraudulent transaction.
Which meant that if I had called the number given in the phone call, I could have gotten myself into big trouble.
So this is just a friendly reminder: whenever you get one of these bank or credit card fraud notices – via email, phone message, text, or whatever – no matter how legitimate they sound (and even if it they don’t contain any obvious fakery tipoffs), please do just one small thing to protect yourself: do not reply as they ask you to, and instead log into your account through the bank’s secure website…or call the phone number printed on either your checks or bank card, or on the bank’s secure website.
It may take an extra minute to respond that way, but the extra minute won’t make a real fraud incursion any worse, and it could save you from a scam that would cost a whole lot more time and financial pain in the long run.