Beware Cryptocurrency Scams

As one of the hottest investments on the market, cryptocurrency has been enjoying the spotlight for quite a while, and scammers are eager to cash in on the excitement. Cryptocurrency scams are particularly nefarious since the digital currency is not regulated by any government, and once it has transferred hands it usually cannot be reclaimed. Here’s what you need to know about cryptocurrency scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out 

There are several ways scammers are using cryptocurrency to con people out of their money. 

  • Blackmail. In this ruse, scammers send emails to their targets claiming they have compromising photos, videos, or embarrassing information about them. They threaten to go public with these unless the victim pays up in cryptocurrency. Of course, the scammer is lying about the materials they possess and this is illegal blackmail and extortion.
  • Social media. Here, a target receives a social media message appearing to be from a friend and asking them to send cryptocurrency immediately to help them out of an alleged emergency. If the target complies and sends cryptocurrency to their “friend,” they’ll never see that money again. 
  • Mining. In this scam, bogus websites lure targets into what appear to be opportunities for mining or investing in cryptocurrency. The site may even offer several investment tiers, promising bigger returns for a more significant investment. Unfortunately, any money invested through these sites can never be withdrawn. 
  • Giveaways. These “giveaways” appear to be sponsored by celebrities or big-name cryptocurrency investors, like Elon Musk. Victims are promised exponential returns for small investments in cryptocurrency, or for simply sharing some personal information. Of course, none of it is real, except the loss you’ll experience if you fall victim.
  • Romance. Through online dating sites, scammers convince victims they have met a legitimate love interest. As the “relationship” deepens, the victim’s long-distance date starts talking about fabulous cryptocurrency opportunities with incredible returns. The victim acts upon this advice, and sadly, loses their money to the person they believed was a new romantic partner. 

In each of these scams, the victim has no way of recovering the cryptocurrency they shared if an “investment” has been made. Scammers also use common spoofing technology to make it appear as if they represent a legitimate business or website. As always, when in doubt, opt-out. 

How to spot a cryptocurrency scam

Look out for these red flags to help you avoid cryptocurrency scams: 

  • You’re promised big payouts with guaranteed returns for a small investment in a specific cryptocurrency. 
  • A celebrity or famed cryptocurrency investor is sponsoring a cryptocurrency giveaway.
  • A friend contacts you on social media, claiming they are caught up in an emergency and need immediate rescue, but only through cryptocurrency. 
  • You’re promised free money in cryptocurrency in exchange for sharing some personal information.
  • A caller, new love interest, organization, or alleged government agency insists on payment via cryptocurrency.

Be sure to follow common safety measures when online and never share personal information or money with an unverified contact. If you are unsure whether you’ve actually been contacted by a friend or an authentic business, reach out to them to learn the real deal. Finally, if you’re looking to invest in cryptocurrency, never click on an ad or email; look up secure investment sites like Robinhood and Coinbase on your own.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of the above cryptocurrency scams or a similar scheme, immediately report the scam to the FTC. If the scam was pulled off on social media, let the platform owners know so they can take appropriate measures. Finally, let your friends and family know about the circulating scam.

Cryptocurrency offers unique opportunities for beginner and experienced investors alike, but scammers are exploiting digital currency for their own schemes. Proceed with caution to keep your money and your information safe. 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a cryptocurrency scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Get Spooked by One of these Scams this Halloween!

That cackling, long-haired witch might send your heart fluttering with fear, but these Halloween scams are even spookier! Here’s what to know about these common Halloween scams. 

 1. The Joker

Desperate for money before the holiday shopping season hits? Looking to pad your pockets with a bit of extra cash? Scammers know this all too well, and target consumers with messages promising loads of money for very little work. All you need to do is send a small amount of money to a designated digital address via CashApp, Venmo, or another money transfer app, and your money will be doubled, tripled, or more. 

Don’t fall for the tricks! Much like another variation of the money-flipping scam, they’ll ask you to share your account information so they can withdraw the money and then “treat” you with the cash you’ve earned. It’s like getting free money – which, of course, doesn’t exist. 

Spot a money-flipping scam through the amateur writing and too-good-to-be-true promises. Any request for you to share your banking information is another dead giveaway. 

2. Night of the Living Dead

This scam can be pulled off at any time of year, but it takes on an extra level of spookiness when yards are decorated with ghosts and cobwebby graveyards. In the deceased identity theft scam, scammers actually steal the identity of someone who is no longer living. They may empty the decedent’s accounts, pass off their credit history as their own and use their Social Security number to collect benefits, apply for a job, and more.

Protect a loved one’s identity from being stolen after they pass on by taking steps to lock down their social media accounts, credit report, and Social Security number. Keep an eye on their accounts until their assets have been lawfully divided. 

3. Trick or Treat

You found the perfect costume online, and for a bargain price! You happily pay up, complete your order and wait for the package to arrive. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately, you’ve been tricked. 

In a variation of the online order scam, the package arrives on your doorstep as promised, but has little resemblance to the way it looked online. The quality may be lacking, the size and color completely off, or important components missing. You may try to find a customer service line, but there’s no working number listed. You may also try returning the purchase, but a street address for returns will be more elusive than the invisible man. 

Don’t get tricked! Only order from reputable sites that display complete contact information for the company. Ignore all offers that scream “Hot Deal! Act Now!” and feature prices that are way below the average sale price. Shop with caution and you’ll only walk away with treats.

4. Hitman

There’s a hitman at your door – and no, this is no disguise! 

In the hitman scam, scammers pretend to be assassins who were hired to take out a target. They’ll send the target extortion emails and messages, promising to spare their life for just a few thousand dollars. Often, they’ll even drop the name of the friend or family member who allegedly put a hit on the target’s life. 

Don’t get scammed! If you receive an extortion message of any kind, contact local law enforcement. Never share money with an unverified contact. And finally, if the scammer shared the name of the person who allegedly hired them, reach out to this person to verify that no, they didn’t put a hit on your life. 

It’s a frightening world out there, but being aware of these scams and following smart precautions, you can protect your money and your information. 

Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Beware of Gift Card Scams

Everyone loves a gift card for their favorite retailer or restaurant. It’s like getting money to spend in any way you please! Unfortunately, scammers also love gift cards, but for all the wrong reasons: They often use gift cards to pull off scams. Here’s what you need to know about gift card scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several ways scammers utilize gift cards to con victims out of their money:

  • The IRS gift card scam. In this scam, a target receives a threatening message that’s allegedly from the IRS and claiming they are at risk of arrest for tax evasion if they do not pay up immediately. However, they insist that payment can only be made in the form of a gift card. Often, the scammer will ask specifically for an iTunes gift card, because, as you know, the IRS always asks for tax payments in the form of digital music. 
  • The tech support gift card scam. In this variation, a caller pretends to represent tech support at a recognized company, like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll insist there is something wrong with the victim’s computer and offer to “assist” in fixing the problem. Payment can be made with a gift card, of course. Lucky for you, there is nothing wrong with your computer, but you’ve just been targeted by a scam and are at risk of getting tricked. 
  • The romance gift card scam. A new dating partner found through a dating website asks for money in the form of a gift card to help them out of a sticky situation. Believe them and you’ll lose both your date and your money. 
  • The sweepstakes gift card scam. Congratulations — you’ve won a trip to the Cayman Islands! But first, you have to pay the small processing fee via gift card. Follow directions and you’ll never see that vacation or the money you spent on the gift card again. 
  • The utility gift card scam. You don’t want your gas or electricity cut off, do you? If you don’t pay up with a gift card, the lights might just go out. They won’t, but if you fall for the call, you’ll be out the money you spent on the gift card.
  • The balance-check gift card scam. You spot a discounted gift card up for sale online and happily purchase the card. The seller will send you the card, but then ask you to read the numbers over the phone to confirm the balance. If you comply, the seller now has all the information they need to use up all the funds on the gift card. 

How to spot a gift card scam

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in recognizing gift card scams:

  • The IRS will never initiate correspondence by phone call, text message, or email. Instead, they will send a letter to taxpayers through the U.S. postal system. 
  • No authentic business or government agency will insist on payment by gift card. 
  • If you don’t recall entering a sweepstakes, chances are you didn’t win it either.
  • A caller or message claiming a matter is urgent and demands immediate action is nearly always a scam. 

In general, gift cards should be used for purchases or to send as gifts, and not as payments. Also, as with all sensitive information, the numbers on your gift card should never be shared over the phone or online. Finally, it’s best to only purchase gift cards through reputable sellers or those that have excellent customer reviews and/or offer a cash-back guarantee.

If you’ve fallen victim to a gift card scam

If you’ve paid a scammer with a gift card or shared your gift card information after being taken by any of the above ruses or similar schemes, take immediate steps to mitigate the damage. 

First, contact the company that issued the card as soon as possible. You can find the customer service number for most companies on the card itself or through a simple Google search. Tell the representative what happened. If you still have them, hold on to the receipt and the actual card for proof should it be required. 

Next, if the scammer continues to contact you by phone, text message or email, do not engage further. Block the scammer’s number from your mobile device and mark their emails as spam. 

Finally, report the incident to the FTC and alert your family and friends about the scam. 

Stay safe! 

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a gift card scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Your Complete Guide to Secure Mobile Banking

In response to the rise of mobile banking scams, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently published new guidance on unauthorized electronic funds transfers, or EFTs. With more people using electronic banking as a holdover from pandemic times, it’s important for consumers to be aware of its vulnerabilities and how to protect themselves from scams. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of mobile banking and how to stay safe. 

What are the risks of mobile banking? 

Banking through your mobile device is quick, convenient and efficient. There’s no longer a need to stop by the credit union on your way home from work to deposit checks, make a transfer or review your recent account history. Most banks and credit unions now allow you to do all that and more at any time, and from anywhere, using your phone and a mobile banking app. 

Unfortunately, though, like all transactions that take place over the internet, mobile banking has some inherent risks. First, hackers can break into a phone and an account to steal money and information. Also, phishing scams that target people over the phone can trick them into sharing login information with scammers who may then hack into the account. Finally, bogus emails and messages appearing to be from your credit union can lead you to unknowingly install malware on your device. 

Mobile banking scams can be difficult to spot and are frighteningly prevalent. In fact, according to a report by data science company Feedzai, the first quarter of 2021 saw a 159% increase in banking scams over the last quarter of 2020. This is likely due to the fact that the volume of banking transactions are returning to their pre-pandemic norm and many of them are happening online. 

How to bank safely online

Instances of online fraud may be mounting, but that doesn’t mean you need to give up the convenience of mobile banking. Follow these protocols for online safety and bank with high confidence: 

  • Use a VPN to hide your IP address. A VPN (virtual private network) will give you a private network, even when you’re using public Wi-Fi, thus preventing scammers from tracking and hacking your mobile device. It’s important to note that some VPNs can work so well that your own credit union won’t recognize you, so be sure to choose one that provides each user with a designated proxy IP. This enables select accounts to recognize the user while providing protection from hackers. 
  • Always choose multi-factor authentication. Most money apps will require this, but if your chosen app allows you to make this choice, be sure to say yes to multi-factor authentication. 
  • Never share your password or save it to your device. All of your passwords should be confidential, but the password you choose for an online banking app must be top secret. Don’t share your password with anyone. Follow suggested guidelines for choosing a strong password, including alternating between uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols; and choosing a unique password you don’t use elsewhere. Also, choose a security question that cannot be answered by searching through the personal information you post on your social media platforms. 
  • Brush up on your knowledge of scams. It’s important to keep yourself updated on the latest banking scams and to know how to recognize a scam if you’re targeted. Never answer a text or email that asks for your account details, even if it appears to be from your credit union. Finally, always be wary of unsolicited phone calls and banking alerts. 
  • Protect your phone. With the wealth of sensitive information it holds, a smartphone should be protected just like a desktop and laptop computer. Consider installing an antivirus app on your phone as well as a location-tracking app so you can find your phone if it gets lost. Be sure to lock your phone after using it, log out of the mobile banking app when you are done and always keep your phone in a safe place. 

Mobile banking scams are on the rise, but by simply following the tips shared above, you can use your phone to bank with confidence, knowing your money and your information are safe.

Your Turn: How do you bank safely online? Share your tips with us in the comments. 

Beware Back to School Scams

As the store aisles fill up with pencils and crayons and the frantic back-to-school shopping season begins, scammers are ready to strike. Whether you’re a college student preparing for the fall semester, a high school student ready to make the most of the coming school year or the parent of a student of any age, beware of these trending back-to-school scams.

The student tax scam

In this scam, a crook posing as the IRS calls a college-bound student informing them that they have failed to pay the student tax. If it is not paid up immediately, the “agent” says, the student will not be allowed to attend school and may even face jail time.

IRS scams like this one can happen at any time of year, but are especially common before the start of a new school year. Here are three things to know to help you avoid this scam: 

  • The “student tax” does not exist. 
  • The IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer through a phone call.
  • The IRS will never demand payment through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

Scholarship scams

Another school-related scam that can be more prevalent this time of year, the scholarship scam cons students and their parents into paying money for government student loans or financial aid, or promises a scholarship for a fee. Follow these rules to avoid falling for scholarship scams: 

  • Never pay to apply for a government student loan or financial aid. There is no fee for applying for government aid and there is help available for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms at fafsa.gov
  • There’s no way to guarantee a scholarship or grant. If you’re targeted by a company promising to get you approved for either one by paying a small fee, you’re being targeted by a scam. 
  • There is generally no fee necessary to receive a scholarship. If you are offered a scholarship for a fee, opt out. 

School supply giveaways and freebies

Between backpacks, new clothing and loads of supplies, back-to-school shopping can cost a lot. Messages promising a free back-to-school shopping spree can be most welcome, if they’re legit. Unfortunately, they too often are not.

Back-to-school giveaway scams will ask the victim to visit a website and provide their email address to claim their prize. The victim will then be rewarded with an endless stream of emails, texts, robocalls and more from the company that now has their information and other companies they’ve sold this information to, with no true rewards or prizes in sight. 

In some cases, the scam is a lot more nefarious, and the “company’s” website will infect the victim’s device with malware. Or, the scammer may demand a “processing fee” before the victim can claim their supposed prize. 

Protecting yourself from a giveaway scam is easy when you remember this simple rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, legitimate contests will rarely select a winner at random; you’ll have to enter it first by providing your email address or another way the company can contact you if you win. They are also not likely to make you jump through hoops or provide all sorts of information before claiming your prize. Finally, there is generally no payment necessary for claiming an authentically won prize. 

Social media scams

In these scams, victims are targeted through their social media platforms and offered incredible deals or offers on school supply shopping. This can be presented in the form of deeply discounted gift cards at favored stores, expensive technology at bargain prices and more. Of course, these deals are bogus and if the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware. 

Here, too, stay alert and remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it’s almost certainly a scam. No, you won’t be scoring an iPad for just $19.99 and you can’t buy a $1000 gift certificate to Abercrombie for just $250. Ignore all ads like these and, if you can, opt out of receiving them in the future. 

It’s back to school season, and the scammers are at it again. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a back-to-school scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Trading for Beginners 2021: 3 Books in 1

Title: Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Trading for Beginners 2021: 3 Books in 1: The Ultimate Guide to Start Investing in Crypto and Make Massive Profit with Bitcoin, Altcoin, Non-Fungible Tokens and Crypto Art

Author: Nicholas Scott

Paperback: 397 pages

Publisher: Independently published

Publishing date: April 11, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Aspiring cryptocurrency investors who are looking for advice on entering this unique market. 
  • Experienced cryptocurrency investors who want to expand their knowledge of cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and crypto art.
  • Readers who don’t want to take the risk of investing in cryptocurrency, but are interested in learning how it works. 

What’s inside this book?

  • A down-to-earth beginner’s guide into the world of crypto investing. 
  • Advanced analysis of the cryptocurrency market. 
  • Tips and tricks for making it big through cryptocurrency.
  • Strategies for choosing the perfect coin and keeping your investments safe. 
  • A step-by-step guide for creating and selling your own NFTs. 

3 lessons you’ll learn from this book: 

  1. How to make your first cryptocurrency investment.
  2. How to build the perfect cryptocurrency trading strategy.
  3. The 6 secret qualities of a high-value NFT.

5 questions this book will answer for you: 

  1. What is cryptocurrency and how does it work? 
  2. Is it a good idea to invest in cryptocurrency? 
  3. What are NFTs and why are they the currency of the future? 
  4. How can NFTs be used in the digital world?
  5. What is crypto art? 

What people are saying about this book: 

  • “Don’t know what a Bitcoin is? Confused by cryptocurrency and art? These three books explain what they are and how to invest in them. The author also explains how crypto art can be a profitable investment.”
  • “I found this book understandable and well written. I found the part on the NFTs really interesting. I used to be skeptical about NFTs, but after reading this book, I understood how they work and how they can be used as an investment.”

Your Turn: What did you think of Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Trading for Beginners? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Scam Free Summer

Hello, summer! It’s the season of flip-flops and ice pops, of sun-drenched afternoons and lazy days at the beach. And, unfortunately, summertime is also prime time for scammers. People are more relaxed, schedules are looser and vacationers are traveling in unfamiliar locations. All of this can lead people to let their guard down during the summer, and the scammers know it. 

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe. 

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

So you won an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba? Or a vacay in a remote French chalet? Sounds like a dream come true, but if you follow through, you’ll be caught up in a nightmare.  If you’re asked to pay even a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to pay a fee for a prize.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card will offer you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds.

3. Ignore celebrity messages

Celebrities might have a direct line with the public through their social media platforms, but don’t believe a private message appearing to be from your favorite movie star, singer or athlete. A direct message from a celeb asking for money for a charity, or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road this summer, and pumping gas in unfamiliar places, it’s a good idea to check the card reader for skimmers before going ahead with your transaction. A card skimmer will read your credit or debit card information, enabling a scammer to empty your accounts. Here’s how to check for a skimmer on a card reader:

  • Try to wiggle the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. 
  • Check the keypad to see if it looks newer than the rest of the card reader.
  • Touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully before booking

With so many vacationers now booking stays at private homes instead of hotels, scamming travelers is easy. All it takes is a few fake photos, a bogus address, and you’ve got yourself a fake vacation rental. In other vacation rental scams, scammers will falsely advertise a rental as a beachfront property when it’s not, claim that it’s larger or more up-to-date than it is or promise amenities that are missing when you arrive. 

Don’t get scammed! Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews left by previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it in fact exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. As another precaution, you can ask the owner for more details about the property just to see their reaction; if they sound vague or uneasy, it’s likely a scam. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

Contractors who go from door-to-door looking for work are a fairly common summertime sight. Unfortunately, though, some of these “contractors” are actually scammers who are only looking to con innocent homeowners out of their money. They’ll deliver shoddy work at an inflated price, go AWOL once a down payment on the job’s been made or do more harm than good with their “home improvement” work.

It’s best to only hire contractors whom you’ve personally reached out to instead of waiting for one to come knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, thoroughly research a potential contractor, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, it’s best not to agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work commences. Even then, only pay when you see the materials arrive. 

Don’t let summertime turn into scam-time. Stay alert, follow the tips outlined above, and stay safe!

Your Turn: What are your tips for a scam-free summer? Share them with us in the comments. 

Scam Alert: Beware Child Tax Credit Scams

The Child Tax Credit, a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that takes effect in July, is already drawing the attention of scammers. The newly expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) will provide monthly payments of up to $300 per child for approximately 40 million households across the country. Payments will be issued via direct deposit, paper check, or debit cards, providing a plethora of opportunities for scammers to get in on the action.

Here’s what you need to know about Child Tax Credit scams and how to avoid them.

How the scams play out

There are several variations of the Child Tax Credit scam, each ultimately designed to trick parents and guardians out of their rightful CTC funds.

In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information in order to receive their CTC funds. In lieu of pretending to represent the IRS, the scammer may also claim to be in the position of “helping” the victim receive their funds. Unfortunately, in either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions of the contact, they will be playing right into the hands of a scammer.

In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website where they are prompted to input their personal information. This scam is especially common, as the IRS has announced that it will be launching two web-based portals for families who’d like to update their information for the CTC: one for taxpayers who file annual returns and would like to share their banking details or a change in the number of dependents they have in their household, and one for taxpayers whose income level falls below the threshold for filing returns. While the two separate sites will make the application process smoother for the IRS, they also open the door for more bogus sites to spring up and snag unsuspecting victims in their trap.

What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit

As always, knowledge is your best protection against potential scams. Here’s what you need to know about the CTC and the way the IRS operates:

  • The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail. The IRS will never call, email, text, or DM you asking you to share sensitive information.
  • You do not need to take any action or share personal information to receive the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve filed taxes in 2020, or even in 2019, and you’re eligible to receive the CTC funds, they will arrive via paper check, debit card or direct deposit without any action on your part. You only need to update information on one of the upcoming IRS portals if you’ve had a change in income, the number of dependents in your household or you’d like to share your banking information with the IRS.
  • Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted

As the date of the first advanced CTC approaches, scams are exploding everywhere. If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety by never sharing sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Note that all authentic government sites will end in .gov. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC immediately.

For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov.

The advanced Child Tax Credits will help millions of families struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, but scammers can ruin it all. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Child Tax Credit scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Is Plaid Safe?

Q: When using peer-to-peer payment apps, banking apps and free-trading apps, I’m often redirected to the Plaid network, where I’m asked to input personal information. Can I feel safe using Plaid?

A: The instinct to be wary of any service that’s asking you to share sensitive information is appropriate and commendable. Most financial apps will ask you to share your banking information, and some will even ask you to share your Social Security number. But it begs the important question; Should you be sharing this information?

While the safety and security of each financial app is individual, apps that are powered by Plaid are safe to use. Plaid is a reputable company that uses encryption and industry-standard security measures to protect your sensitive information.

Here’s what you need to know about Plaid.

What is Plaid? 

Plaid is a financial technology company that serves as an intermediary between financial services and their users. Apps like Venmo, You Need a Budget and Robinhood use Plaid to securely link their users’ financial accounts to their own platforms. This way, the financial apps do not have access to their users’ information; they instead rely on Plaid to supply it for them.

Plaid works by using a universal Application Programming Interface (API) to share users’ data with other applications. APIs are software intermediaries that allow two different applications to communicate. Plaid has developed an API that can be used by any financial institution or application, making it simpler and safer for users to share their financial information digitally.

How does Plaid work?

When you sign up for any of the 3,000+ financial applications currently powered by Plaid, you’ll be asked to choose your financial institution from a list that’s provided by Plaid. Next, you’ll enter your banking login info and password. Some apps will have you create a new password at this point. Once you’ve logged in, Plaid securely shares the information you’ve chosen to link, such as your checking account number, with the app you’re using.

It’s important to note that Plaid itself does not move money around. The technology merely enables other financial apps and their users to send funds from one account to another. Plaid holds onto your encrypted password information without touching your money, while the linked financial app can move your money, but cannot access or know your login credentials.

Is Plaid safe?

Sharing personal information with an app can be unsettling — and it should be. However, you can rest easy, knowing that Plaid uses the highest levels of security possible. When you link your checking account with a financial application by using Plaid, the company instantly encrypts the sensitive data and then shares it with the application using a secure connection.

According to the Plaid website, the company uses these measures to keep your information secure:

  • End-to-end data encryption. Plaid uses a combination of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES-256) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) to keep your personal information completely safe.
  • Multi-factor authentication.  An extra login step adds another layer of security.
  • Cloud infrastructure. Plaid uses secure cloud infrastructure technologies to enable quick and safe connection.
  • Robust monitoring. The Plaid API and all related components are continuously monitored by a security team.
  • Third-party security reviews. Security researchers and financial institutions regularly audit Plaid’s API and security controls.

When using an application that is powered through Plaid, practice standard online safety measures. Check the URL to ensure you have the correct site, look for the lock icon and the “s” following the “http” in the address. Also, make sure the security settings on your device are updated and set to their strongest levels. Finally, if you need to choose a new password for the app, be sure to choose a strong, unique code and not to share it with anyone.

In a world that is increasingly mobile, Plaid safely connects users to thousands of financial apps and 11,000 financial institutions across the country. Follow basic online safety protocol, keep your login info private, and you can use Plaid knowing your information is secure.

Your Turn: What steps do you take to keep your data safe? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
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Micro-Deposit Scams

It probably doesn’t surprise you to know that scammers are always coming up with creative ways to con people out of their money. Recently, there’s been an uptick in an old scam in which crooks reach out to targets and try to gain access to their accounts through micro-deposits. Unfortunately, too many people have already fallen for this scam, and we don’t want our members getting caught in the trap. To that end, we’ve compiled this guide on micro-deposit scams, how they play out and what you can do if you’re targeted.

What is a micro-deposit?

Before we can explore the actual scam, it’s important to understand how a micro-deposit works.

Micro-deposits are small sums of money transferred online from one financial account to another. The purpose of the deposits is to verify if the account on the receiving end is actually the account the sender intended to reach. Micro-deposits are generally less than $1 and can be as small as $0.02. They are also typically deposited in pairs; within one to three business days of linking accounts, two micro-deposits should appear in your account.

As mentioned, micro-deposits are primarily used to verify account ownership. For example, if you’d like to link your checking account at Advantage One Credit Union with an investment account, the investment brokerage firm will want to verify that it’s sending your dividends to the correct account. Before sending any of your investment earnings, it’ll do a test run by sending a pair of micro-deposits to your checking account. You’ll be notified that the firm has sent these deposits, and asked to verify the amount of the deposit by logging into your newly linked account. Once you’ve completed this step, the brokerage account will withdraw the small amount of money sent through the micro-deposits and proceed with regular deposits of investment dividends, as planned.

How the scams play out

Micro-deposit scams can take one of two forms.

In one type of micro-deposit scam, a crook will open as many investment accounts as they can, linking each one to one of a handful of bank accounts. When the micro-deposits begin to come in, the scammer will quickly transfer the money to another account before the brokerage company withdraws the deposits. Though each micro-deposit is small, when multiplied by thousands, the scammer can pull in quite a lot of money  — until they get caught, that is.

But it’s the other type of micro-deposit scam that concerns us more — and should concern you as well. In this scam, crooks will link brokerage accounts with strings of random numbers, hoping to hit a valid account. When a deposit is verified from an account, they will use additional information about the account holder to withdraw funds from this account as they please. Unfortunately, many people are uninformed about this scam and innocently verify the micro-deposits, giving the scammers free access to their accounts.

[Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we’ve had an alarming number of micro-deposits made to some of our members’ accounts. To protect our members and their money, we’ve started sending automatic text message alerts to members when they’ve received a micro-deposit. This way, the member knows about the deposit and, if they don’t recognize the sender, they can let us know they’ve been targeted by a scammer. We can then refuse to let the deposit clear and consider placing a fraud alert on the member’s account. Most importantly, the member will know they’ve been targeted and they can refuse to verify the deposit.]

What to do if you’re targeted

Micro-deposits are small enough to fly under the radar and you may unknowingly verify one of these deposits with an uninformed click. [However, now that we’ve initiated our micro-deposit alert system, you will know when to be on the lookout for a micro-deposit and the verification request that follows it.] Here’s what to do if you’ve received a micro-deposit from an unknown source:

  • Do not verify the deposit. Without verification, the scammer won’t know they’ve hit an authentic account.
  • Do not click on any links embedded in the verification request message or download any attachments.
  • Let us know you’ve been targeted.
  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov so they can do their part in catching the scammers.
  • Let your friends and family know about the scam so they can be on the alert as well.

Scammers are using micro-deposits to gain access to our members’ accounts, but Advantage One Credit Union is doing everything possible to stop them before they can do any real damage. Together, we can beat the scammers at their game and protect your accounts and your money. Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a micro-deposit scam? Share your experience in the comments.

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