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How to Protect Yourself from Online Scammers

Modern-day, digital equivalents of pickpockets might steal your identity, make fraudulent transactions to your bank accounts, or wreak general financial havoc. Here are 6 tricks to look out for.

Jackie Lam • April 30, 2021

As more of our day-to-day is spent on social media, online shopping, going down digital rabbit holes (hello, Wikipedia!), and staying in touch with our tribe, it’s important to be on the lookout for dangers that might arise.

These modern-day, digital equivalents of pickpockets might steal your identity, make fraudulent transactions to your bank accounts, or wreak general financial havoc. Yikes. Here are 6 tricks to look out for.

In This Article

  1. Speed up payment for government financial assistance 💸
  2. Avoid propaganda sites 🚫
  3. Trust your hunch about shady apps 🤔
  4. Keep your password to yourself 🔒
  5. Beware of tax preparer scams 📊
  6. Know the difference between Identity theft versus fraud ✅
  7. Staying vigilant is key 👀

Speed up payment for government financial assistance 💸

Is a third party platform or outside company claiming they can get you that stimulus check, Paycheck Protection Program Loan (PPP), tax refund, or unemployment benefits (aka unemployment insurance or UI) faster, but only if you use their service? Don’t buy into it. External services can’t speed up payment. Period. You can only receive disbursement from the government agency itself, such as the IRS or Department of Labor (DOL).

Another red flag is asking for an upfront deposit in order to receive UI benefits, tax refunds, SBA loans, or stimulus payments.

Pro Tip: For unemployment benefits (or UI), those are handled at the state level. So information about if you qualify, how much you can receive, and how to get payment can only be through the DOL for the state you were employed in. 

Avoid propaganda sites 🚫

Keep an eye out for sites that fraudulently imitate political parties, advocacy groups, and charities.

Donating to a political campaign? First, double check that the site is endorsed by the candidate or organization. Be sure to question any sites asking for funds to be sent via cryptocurrency or to another bank account. They might be run by bad actors seeking to launder funds offshore. (Because yes, that happens.)

The same goes for causes. Your best bet is to donate directly on the non-profit, charity or organization’s website, or through trusted platforms like GoFundMe. 

Pro Tip: If a charity doesn’t quite look legit, you can look them up on Charity Navigator, which provides details and rates 1.8 million charities. 

Trust your hunch about shady apps 🤔

As a general rule of thumb, don’t download any apps that look fishy. First, it should always be available in either the App Store or on Google Play. 

Other telltale signs: Is the developer name and company name legit? Have they created any other apps? Are those legit? Are there any reviews? If so, what do the reviews say? Running down that list of questions can help you figure out whether an app is shady or not.  

Pro Tip: Keep your phone and computer up to date with the latest security fixes. If you’re experiencing an account issue, know that Chime will never ever ask you to download remote entry apps (e.g. Team View) for further assistance.

Remember:

If you’re experiencing an account issue, know that Chime will never ever ask you to download remote entry apps (e.g. Team View) for further assistance.

Keep your password to yourself 🔒

Beware of fake social media accounts and emails. Some impersonators are masters of illusion, to say the least. A solid rule of thumb: Never give your personal information, username or password to an email or text request that you didn’t initiate. 

If you’re a Chime member, Chime will never ask you for your username and password. (This is generally true for any financial app.) If you’re signed up for two-factor authentication, never give your 6-digit code (aka MFA code) that’s texted to you to anyone over the phone, via text message, social media, or email. If you received an MFA code you did not request, report it to Chime.

Pro Tip: Your passwords should be hard to figure out. Ideally, they contain a combination of numbers and letters — both uppercase and lowercase — and special symbols. Not personal information such as your birthday, street address number, etc. Also, don’t  use the same password for different accounts and make sure to change your them frequently (ideally, every 60 days).

Beware of tax preparer scams 📊

Sad but true: tax preparer scams are a thing. If you’re working with a tax professional to file your tax return, you might give them access to financial documents — bank statements, tax forms from years past or your retirement accounts, and so forth. Whatever you do, don’t authorize a sole tax preparer to accept a tax refund on your behalf into their personal bank account.

Be sure to vet out any tax professional before working with them — ask for referrals, read up on reviews, and see if there are any complaints filed on sites such as the Better Business Bureau or Trustpilot.

Pro Tip: You can ask for what’s called a letter of engagement before working together and handing off any personal information or documents. This serves as an agreement between you and the tax professional, and outlines all the deets: the type and scope of work to be performed, and terms and conditions for payment. It also can include what you can expect from the tax preparer, and what they can expect from you. It can protect you from wrongdoing. 

Know the difference between Identity theft versus fraud ✅

These terms are often used together, but it’s good to understand them both, as they might call for slightly different measures to protect yourself.

Identity theft is when an online scammer steals valuable, personal information — like a Social Security number — to make purchases, open new accounts, or receive a tax refund. There are steps you can take to make sure your information stays secure to prevent identity theft. Financial fraud, on the other hand, is when someone does something illegal to steal money or some other valuable assets from you.

Pro Tip: To protect yourself from a scammer from using your SSN to file a tax return, you can request what’s known as an IP PIN from the IRS. While in the past it was only made available to victims of identity theft, starting in 2021 anyone can request an IP PIN. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can report it and get help with next steps on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Identitytheft.gov. 

Staying vigilant is key 👀

While online scammers abound, being proactive and taking these steps can prevent your sensitive personal information and bank account info from getting into the wrong hands. Look for telltale signs of potential traps, schemes, and take preventative measures to safeguard your information. In turn, it’ll save you from a potentially scary situation that could leave you vulnerable to no-good doers.

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