Escaping a scam: Local bankers discuss financial safety

Monday, June 20, 2011
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On April 20, the Missouri Division of Finance sent a news release stating that scam artists have been targeting consumers who hold mortgages, apply for loans or do other finance-related business in Missouri. Local bankers say they have not seen local cases of these scams, which arrived via telephone and through the mail. Still, it's as good a time as any to be wary of phone calls and mailings when it comes to finances.

"Fraud has been around a long time; we just hear about it much more frequently because of the flow of information in our society today," says Kevin Greaser, community bank president at Alliance Bank in Cape Girardeau. "The popularity of online banking and shopping online brings additional risk. It seems as though the most vulnerable or susceptible are the elderly, perhaps because they are simply too trusting. Another group of people who are vulnerable are the uninformed. When you add both of these groups together, it makes for a rather large base of consumers for the scam artists to prey upon."

Greaser, along with Steve Taylor, president and CEO of First Missouri State Bank in Cape Girardeau, offer this advice for avoiding a scam or fraud:

1. Don't discuss financial information over the phone, especially when you are not the one who initiated the call. "If somebody calls wanting to verify your account number, something is wrong," says Taylor. The same goes with anyone calling for your address, Social Security number or mother's maiden name, for example -- all of your banks and credit card accounts should already have your personal information, and there is no need for them to request it over the phone, says Taylor.

"If someone calls you, politely refuse any information and, if necessary, call the company yourself from telephone numbers on your account statements, not a number the caller has given you," says Greaser.

2. Don't trust emails. "Your bank or credit card company is not going to send you anything over the Internet," says Taylor. Never respond to an email requesting personal or account information, says Greaser. Check your credit report once a yea and shred personal documents -- including receipts from shopping -- at home instead of tossing them in the trash, he adds.

3. Read carefully. Be wary of documents in which the sentence structure is not exactly right, or you find spelling errors -- it could be a scam, says Taylor. "It's nothing that a legitimate big bank would do," he says. If you're unsure whether to trust a document, contact your bank or credit card company, or take the document directly to your bank.

"If it looks like it might be from the bank, hand it to us and we'll be able to tell you whether we sent it," says Taylor. When calling your bank or credit card company, make sure you find a legitimate customer service number -- don't call any numbers listed on the document in question.

4. Be realistic. Watch out for claims such as "bad credit, no problem," and "low down payment with affordable monthly payments." Says Greaser, "These are terms that typically indicate the deal is too good to be true, and you should be very careful. Remember, shop around, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

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