How to Recognize Common Scams & Cyber Threats (2023)

What you should know

Though there are different types of scams, the objective is the same: to steal your money or information.

Scammers often use sophisticated tactics to commit fraud that make it hard to cancel or reverse the transaction.

If you send money to a scammer, you may not be able to get it back. Worse, if you knowingly take part in a scam, you could face hefty fines and criminal charges.

Here are some common ways scammers pressure you to pay:

Wire transfer

Wire transfers are an immediate form of payment that deposit money directly into another person's account and are typically irreversible, even if fraud is involved.

Digital payment apps

Digital payments allow you to send money to another person without using their bank account number. Using an app or service like Zelle®, CashApp®, or Venmo® is like sending cash.

Be on the lookout for bank imposters who tell you to send money to yourself with Zelle® claiming that the payment is to reverse a suspicious charge. We'll never ask you to send money to yourself or anyone else.

Gift card and prepaid card

Scammers may ask you to pay them using a gift card or prepaid card because they are like cash. If you are ever asked to pay or donate in the form of a gift card or prepaid cardit’s a scam.

Cryptocurrency

Cryptocurrency is digital money that is not backed by the U.S. government or any bank, and once sent, that transaction is irreversible.

As part of a new job or romance scam, you could be asked to make a payment or send money using cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin or Ether.Be wary of unexpected requests to send money using cryptocurrency.

Fake check or account deposit

Scammers may send you a fake check or make a deposit into your account. Once the deposit has been made, you are asked to send all or a part of it back. After you send the money, you find out that the check or deposit is fraudulent.

Be aware: You are responsible for the full amount of the check you deposited and associated check fees if it is returned plus any money you send a scammer. It may typically take up to 10 business days for a check to be discovered as fraudulent and returned to your bank. (This varies by state and can take up to a few years.)

Debit or credit card

After obtaining your debit or credit card number through a scam or data breach, scammers may use it to make unauthorized purchases. Set up alertson your accounts to help you track your transactions and spot unusual account activity so you can contact us quickly if something doesn't look right.

QR codes

QR codes can be a quick and easy way to pay for goods or services without the hassle of entering a URL into your browser or handing over your physical card.

It’s convenient, but use caution when scanning QR codes to pay for items or services. If something doesn’t feel right when using a QR code to pay, ask to pay a different way. Be aware that scammers may use QR codes to send you to a malicious site, or fake website where they can steal your payment information.

Here’s what you can do to help protect yourself from scams.

Spot warning signs of a scam by being wary of:

  • Get-rich-quick schemes. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Unexpected calls, texts, social media posts, or emails where someone asks you to send money, provide your account information, or give them access to your device.
  • Scammers impersonating tech support companies, government agencies, and even Wells Fargo to pressure you to act right away. Don’t be afraid to end communication with the person who contacted you so you can have time to do more research.

Follow these tips to help avoid a payment scam:

  • When using Zelle® or a wire transfer to pay someone, double check your payment details to make sure that you're sending money to the right person. If you send money as part of a scam, you may not be able to get it back.
  • Don't send money or give your account information to anyone you don’t know or a company you can’t verify as legitimate.

  • Don’t send money back to someone who has provided a check or overpayment for goods or services. These are almost always scams.

  • Don't cash checks for others or provide your account or sign-on information. If the check is bad, you are liable.

  • Don't allow anyone else to use your desktop or mobile device and make sure you have extra layers of security added to your banking and payment apps. Learn more about Wells Fargo's Security Tools and Options.

Card cracking scams

You see a post about making money fast. These scammers may seek access to your debit card and PIN or the username and password to your bank account in order to deposit fake checks and withdraw money.

Next, you're asked to report your card lost or stolen so that your money can be reimbursed by your bank. The scammers then promise you a share of the stolen funds.

Learn more about common social media scams to protect yourself.

Tip: Knowingly depositing bad checks is illegal and can result in fines and criminal charges.

Friend/family member imposter scams

You receive a call, text, email, or social media message from someone that appears to be legitimate because the scammer has some specific information about you, such as your name and details about your friends and family.

Using this method, scammers can trick you into believing they are a friend or family member, claiming to need money for an emergency, such as posting bail, paying a hospital bill, or being detained at an airport. Scammers may pressure you to send money immediately through a gift card, wire transfer, by sending cash, or other payment service, such as Zelle®.

Tip: Contact your friend or family member directly to confirm the caller's story.

Sweepstakes or lottery scams

You receive a phone call, email, or letter stating you have won a lottery or sweepstakes. Scammers require you to pay a fee to receive the prize to avoid taxes or additional fees.

Tip: Legitimate lotteries pay taxes directly to the government rather than being reimbursed from winners’ proceeds. It is also against U.S. law to play a foreign lottery.

Romance scams

Scammers use online dating sites, social networks, and chat rooms to meet potential victims. These scammers use very convincing (but fake) dating profiles to build online relationships. Eventually, they ask for help with their finances. They may request you send money for a hardship or even for you to open an account or deposit checks on their behalf.

Learn more about common social media scams to protect yourself.

Tip: Do not give personal information, account numbers, or credit card information to someone you recently met online.

Online job scams

Scammers create fake posts on social media or job sites offering work-from-home jobs that pay well. The job might be to advertise a company's logo on your car, work as a personal assistant or become a secret shopper.

Once you're "hired," the scammer sends a fake check, money order, or makes a fraudulent deposit for more than your paycheck. Then, you're told what to do with the extra money -- usually buy gift cards, money orders, or pay someone else for fees or other expenses.

Tip: Legitimate companies don't pay you upfront or send you extra money and ask you to pay someone else or buy gift cards.

Online loan scams

Beware of loan offers on social media or online ads. It could be a scammer impersonating a loan company who is looking to empty your bank account once you share your financial data. Watch out for lenders who demand a prepaid debit card or pressure you to act immediately. When applying for a loan, go to a trusted website or bank instead of clicking on a link in an ad.

Tip: Research the lender or loan broker online using rating agencies, online feedback, state and federal agencies like the FTC or a state Attorney General.

Ransomware scams

You unknowingly download a type of malicious software to your computer or phone. This software is designed to block access to your operating system and all the information stored on your device until you pay an online criminal.

Tip: Back up your data regularly by syncing your files to a secure external drive or backup service such as cloud storage.

QR codes

You scan a QR code thinking that you're paying a public parking meter. Instead, you're sent to a fake website where scammers collect your payment information and make unauthorized purchases on your card.

Tip: be very cautious when scanning QR codes to pay. When in doubt, pay a different way.

Cyber threats are attempts to infiltrate or disrupt a computer network or system.

Threats to your computer and mobile device can come in various forms. Cyber criminals use spoof emails, texts, websites, and pop-up ads with malicious links or attachments to convince you to unknowingly download malware to your computer or mobile device.

Cyber criminals may also attempt to prevent you from accessing your accounts by overloading a website with excessive traffic also known as denial-of-service attack.

What is at risk?

  • Cyber criminals may use malware to track your internet activities, capture your personal and account information, and gain access to your financial accounts to steal your money or identity.
  • Online banking may be temporarily unavailable due to an overload of site traffic.

How we help protect you

Wells Fargo is consistently enhancing our security measures and identifying new and emerging threats to help keep your accounts and information secure.

What you can do

  • Use secure websites for payments and shopping, and only with merchants you trust.
  • Keep security patches and anti-virus software up to date for your computer, internet browsers, and mobile devices.
  • Don’t automatically download any attachments – be sure to turn off this setting on your mobile device.
  • Don’t click on links, open attachments, or provide sensitive information through a suspicious email or text message, even if the sender appears to be a reputable company or someone you know.
  • See more fraud prevention and cybersecurity tips.
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