Smart About Money: One thing you must do to avoid being scammed …

Nick Maffeo

Right now, bankers nationwide are seeing a surge of the “You can’t trust your bank” scam. It’s everywhere. The other day on the forums, a gentleman posted about a family friend who fell for that scam. He was asking if there was any way to help the victim get their money back. (There wasn’t.)

In the “You can’t trust your bank” scam, victims get a call or email telling them that the money they have on deposit at their bank is in danger. Also that no one at their bank can be trusted because supposedly they’re all in on the scheme.

Once contact is made, the victim is directed by the scammer to withdraw their money from the bank to “keep it safe.”

The victim is also directed to not tell anyone at the bank why they’re making the withdrawal. They’re told to buy some alternative currency – often gift cards or Bitcoin – and to provide the access codes to the caller/stranger/scammer so their money will be “safe.” Of course, it’s all a lie.

The first tell-tale sign of a scam is always present in every scam approach. It’s the out-of-the-blue and usually alarming contact from a stranger.

Canton Police and other local law enforcement agencies strongly urge people to not engage in any way with these callers or emails. You want to avoid “helpfully” providing corroborating information that makes it possible for the scammer to seem like they “know” you. According to the Canton Police, the best thing to do in these frightening situations is to hang up or get off the computer, then call the Police to report what just happened.

The second tell-tale sign of a scam is an insistence on secrecy and urgency. No legitimate business or government/law enforcement agency will ever insist on secrecy or demand a do-it-this-second payment from you. They will never tell you to go to an “official government store” or ask for gift cards or Bitcoin. Never. Period.

A third tell-tale sign of a scam is when you are directed to take actions that are not normal for you … and then to lie about it.

After all, if you decide to withdraw money from your bank account and you don’t want to get into the “why” with your bank, that’s your business. But if you’re withdrawing a large amount because of a scary phone call or an email from someone who told you to lie about the withdrawal because “you can’t trust anyone at your bank” – that’s a scam.

The “Grandchild In Trouble” scam is also out there right now with a new twist. Victims are being directed to make cash payments immediately through online apps … or else.

Finding a way to independently challenge and disprove an odd or frightening story before sending any money is one thing you can do and must do to protect yourself from being scammed.

If a stranger has you worried that you can’t trust anyone at your bank, an excellent and objective resource for local people is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Banks’ consumer assistance line at 617-956-1500 x4. (That’s a number you can independently confirm yourself on the Division of Banks’ official Mass. government web site.) Or call the police.

If you’re afraid that a grandchild is in danger, calling family members (or the grandchild themselves) is usually the quickest way to get the truth and stop that scam in its tracks.

The goal is to buy yourself time to calm down and figure out what’s really going on – to break the spell of the often-terrifying lies the scammer is telling you. Please share these tips with family and friends so you can all be prepared to help each other avoid being scammed.

From the “Smart About Money” Canton Citizen column published July 13 2023.
Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office – in Canton.
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