Tips to prevent being a victim of popular wintertime financial scams

Experts from Cornerstone Bank offer advice to recognize and avoid common swindles

Criminals regularly develop new ways to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned cash. The experts from Cornerstone Bank want to help local residents spot and stop potential financial scams before they take place.

“We work hard to protect consumers from fraud by arming them with the information they need to guard their finances and identities,” said BSA & Security Officer Jacqui Croft. “Knowing what to look for helps people avoid being swindled. Some scammers are quite sophisticated, so even the savviest consumer can be vulnerable.”

At this time of year, Croft says there is often an increase in romance, utility and skimming scams. With romance scams, criminals adopt fake personalities to gain a victim’s affection and trust. Be wary of relationships that progress very quickly, especially those that take place exclusively online or by phone.

“The scammer’s goal is to create a relationship as quickly as possible by seeming genuine and caring,” said Croft. “They may use the information they gleaned about you online to pretend to have common interests. Eventually, they will say they need help with an unexpected medical bill, legal fee or even transportation expenses to visit you. Don’t fall for it. If you haven’t met in person or feel pressured or rushed, it’s time to shut the relationship down.”

With utility phone scams, callers claim to be from the gas, water, or electric company. They create a sense of fear or urgency, such as threatening to turn off services, to get consumers to provide their credit card numbers or account information.

“Real utility representatives don’t use these tactics,” said Cornerstone’s Chief Risk Officer Mike Roy. “Don’t be intimidated. Hang up and call the utility company directly using the number on your bill or their website, not one provided by the caller. If they confirm you do have unpaid bills, you can then pay them through normal channels.”

Skimming makes use of technology to steal cash from unsuspecting consumers. Scammers attach skimming devices on top of ATMs, gas pumps or other point-of-sale (POS) terminals to capture users’ data or PIN.  

“When you are out pumping gas on a cold winter day, you may not be paying attention, which criminals count on,” said Roy. “Whenever possible, pay inside, choose a fuel pump close to the store or in view of the attendant or run your debit card as credit so you don’t have to enter your PIN. Pull at the edges of the keypad before entering your PIN to make sure there is nothing attached, and cover it with your hand as you enter your information in case hidden cameras have been installed above the terminal.”

“For consumers who think they may have fallen victim to a scam speed is of the essence,” said Cornerstone Bank CEO Todd Tallman. Cancel your affected cards and call your bank if you think your account has been compromised. If a scammer does have your sensitive information, such as your social security number, contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a report.”