By Jeremy King
“Hey, I can help you earn some quick cash.”
To some, those words are an immediate red flag. Surely, this must be a scam. Just say, “No, thanks,” and move on.
But wait. The person making the offer has someone else with him. And that person has a stack of cash.
They sing the guy’s praises. “Hey, it worked for me. All I had to do was cash a check for him – and he paid me a lot.”
In other cases, there’s a story about an urgent need – some down-on-my-luck concoction that appeals to the conscience of the person who the criminal is trying to lure.
“Hey, I’m new here, and I just haven’t been able to get my bank account set up yet. I’ve gotta get my power and water turned on. I just need someone to deposit this check and give me the cash. I’ll even give you a cut of the money,” they say.
It’s happening nationwide.
Often, college campuses are ground zero.
Security experts at Regions Bank say they – and their counterparts at other banks – are seeing more cases of financial fraudsters preying on young adults. And for students back on campus this fall, there’s a clear warning: Don’t fall for it. If you do, there may be little chance of recovering what’s lost.
“At first, the amount of money someone wants to move through your account may seem small enough. You might think, ‘What’s the harm?’” said Jon Kucharski from Regions Bank’s Enterprise Fraud Prevention division. “But there’s plenty of harm. The checks they want to deposit are fraudulent. And if you’re assuming ownership of these checks, and you’re even giving these people access to your account, you’re making yourself part of the fraud. You’re setting yourself up.”
The criminals have a lot of experience. They know how to convince people to take part. They also know when to vanish. And because they’ve conned their way into getting your bank account information, they drain the money that’s in there as they disappear.
“It’s basically their full-time job,” Kucharski added. “It’s up to all of us to be on guard. There is no good reason to do what these people are asking you to do.”
And keep in mind, while the crime often begins in-person, a lot of college students are recruited online or through social media.
No matter how it starts, the results are often the same.
“We see too many cases where the student has even given someone their online login or their debit card and PIN,” said John Joyce of Regions Corporate Security. “The con men will sometimes coach the student on how to try to trick their bank into thinking all these deposits and withdrawals are legitimate. Sometimes they’ll get the student’s login ID and password and then change the online banking credentials and lock the student out of the account.”
While banks are seeing a lot of students falling into the scheme, they caution that anyone could get drawn in. And when someone essentially hands over the keys to their account by giving someone else their login ID, password, debit card and other private banking information, they have little recourse for getting their money back.
“Our teams are working every day to detect and prevent fraud. We have many cases where our associates detected something was wrong, and they took action to help protect the customer,” Joyce added. “But ultimately, if you’ve chosen to deposit a fraudulent check, or if you’ve given someone access to your account and they take off with the money, there may be little that we can do to recover what they take.”
Regions Corporate Security recommends a handful of simple steps to protect your account:
Don’t take the bait — Remember, the fraudsters are good at adapting. They’ll come up with some persuasive story about why they need your help. But it’s never a good idea to put a stranger’s check in your account.
Decline, move on and speak up –If you’re approached by someone running a scam like this, politely explain that you cannot take part, and move on. Then, let your local bank branch – and law enforcement – know what happened. The more people are looking out for activity like this, the less likely it is for criminals to succeed.
Take immediate steps to secure your account if you’ve fallen into a scheme — Change your password. Review your account carefully. And let your bank know. If the fraudsters have already taken money because they were given access, that money might not be recovered. But alerting bank staff can help protect what remains – while raising awareness of fraudsters operating in your area. The safest bet is to never share personal financial information with anyone.
“Our focus is protecting customers,” Kucharski concluded. “And in cases like this, awareness and prevention are the best defense.”
More information on financial fraud prevention can be found on Regions.com. Also, Regions offers financial advice and guidance specifically designed for college students and graduates in the Next Step section of Regions.com. The information is accessible to anyone for free.
So be aware during the new semester – someone may try to separate you from your money. Don’t fall for it.
Look for additional insights and resources designed to help protect accounts and combat fraud in the coming weeks.
This story originally appeared on Regions Bank’s Regions Doing More Today website.