Fraud and scams target individuals and businesses every day. At Bank First, we believe being informed is the first step you can take to help you protect your personal and financial information. We have a dedicated page in our Security Center (How to Protect Yourself) with specific tips to protect your identity and your business plus online, mobile and email security.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers informative videos featuring real-life scenarios and personal stories from victims of fraud. These resources can provide valuable insights to help you safeguard against becoming a victim yourself. We strongly recommend visiting the FTC's website to learn more.
Posted below are common fraud attempts and scams targeting our area. We encourage you to be alert and on guard against these tactics.
Bank First customers, please contact your local office right away if you have provided bank account information, passwords to your online banking accounts, or paid funds as a result of these fraud attempts or scams.
Fraud & Scams Impacting Individuals
Active Scams on Inactive Accounts
Recently, Google announced a change to its inactive account policies. Starting in December 2023, accounts that have been inactive for two or more years will start to get deleted. While this policy is meant to enhance security, cybercriminals could use this news for their phishing scams.
In the coming months, we expect to see an influx of phishing scams based on Google's new policies. Cybercriminals may send you phishing emails claiming that your Google account will be deleted unless you take immediate action. They may also ask you for your Google login credentials. If your login credentials fall into the wrong hands, cybercriminals could steal your sensitive information or impersonate you to scam others.
Follow the tips below to spot similar scams:
- If you receive an email claiming that your account will be deleted, consider whether or not you use the account in question and verify the legitimacy of the email.
- Think before you click. Cyberattacks are designed to catch you off guard and trigger you to click impulsively.
- Be cautious before logging in to accounts through an email link. Instead, navigate to the organization’s official website to log in.
Student Loan Repayment Scams
The student loan payment pause is extended until the U.S. Department of Education is permitted to implement the debt relief program or the litigation is resolved. Payments will restart 60 days later. If the debt relief program has not been implemented and the litigation has not been resolved by June 30, 2023 — payments will resume 60 days after that. Remember that scammers take advantage of every opportunity to steal money and personal information and may contact you by call, text, email, and even social media. The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) shared the top four scam scenarios seen in student loan repayment scams:
- Upfront Costs. Scammers charge illegal fees to borrowers attempting to access free debt-relief programs.
- Illegitimate FSA-ID Requests. Like your social security number, this ID allows scammers access to secure personal and payment information.
- False Promise of Forgiveness. Scammers do not know the details of your borrowing situation - they may make promises most people do not qualify for.
- False Partnership Claims. Verify that any source claiming partnership with the government, loan providers, and/or the Department of Education are legitimate.
View the WBA's Student Loan Repayment Scams document.
Tax-Related Identity Theft
Tax-related identity theft occurs when someone uses your stolen personal information to file a tax return. The IRS notes that you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft if:
- You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
- You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
- You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
- You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
- You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
- You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.
The IRS offers valuable information on this topic in their newsroom: www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft.
Advance Fee Investment Fraud
Advance fee investment fraud solicits investors to either pay fees up front or require fees to access the principle or earnings. These fees may be described as a commission, taxes or operational expense. Fraudsters often fool investors with official-looking websites or provide false statements of earnings.
Advance fee investment fraud may involve the sale of products or services, crypto-currency, lottery winnings, lost inheritance, and many more. Watch out for red flags like:
- Investment offers that come “highly recommended” by unknown persons posting on websites or social groups.
- Offers that guarantee an unusually high rate of return.
- Pressure or sense of urgency to invest immediately.
If an investment sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For more information regarding advance fee and other investment fraud, visit the FBI’s White-Collar Crime webpage for additional information.
Fake Check Scams
- You are asked to accept a check(s) for payment on behalf of another party
- You are told to keep a portion of the funds as payment or for other expenses
- After receiving the check(s), you are told to send funds elsewhere (cash withdrawal, purchase of gift cards, electronic transfer applications like Cash App or Venmo, or directed to purchase Bitcoin)
- When the fraud is successful, the funds have been transferred to the fraudster and the fake check is returned unpaid
Don’t be a victim. If someone sent you a check and asked you to send money back – it’s a scam.
Overpayment Scams by Wire Transfer
- You are contacted by someone who claims to be from Microsoft, Amazon or an IT services company
- You are told that you are entitled to a credit or discount and are advised to login or provide your online banking credentials in order to initiate the “credit”
- The fraudster convinces you that an they issued an “overpayment” in error
- You are pressured to send back a sizable “difference” by wire and instructed to misinform bank staff about the purpose of the wire
If you were asked to provide sensitive banking details to an unknown party and an “overpayment” is involved – it’s a scam.
Unemployment/Cares Act Money Mule Fraud
- You are asked by an online acquaintance who requests bank account or personal identifying information to accept funds on their behalf
- You receive unfamiliar unemployment benefits payments or bank to bank electronic transfers
- You are ungently instructed to send funds elsewhere (cash withdrawal, purchase of gift cards, electronic transfer applications like Cash App or Venmo, or directed to purchase Bitcoin)
If you were asked by an online acquaintance to accept funds into your account and immediately withdraw the majority of the funds – it’s scam.
- Scammers create fake online profiles using legitimate dating apps in order to build a relationship and gain your trust.
- They may claim to be working overseas or in the military and soon present a need for money. The reasons for their request vary - emergencies, gambling debt, travel, or surgery.
- You are asked to pay by wiring money or gift cards - where they can get cash quickly and still remain anonymous.
- The scammer may offer to pay you back by check asking for your online banking login so they can process a mobile deposit.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offers helpful tips to avoid losing money to a romance scam: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/hsi-launches-new-awareness-campaign-digital-romance-scams-valentines-day.
Get Paid to Drive/Car Wrap Scam
- You are offered $250-$350 a week if you will have your vehicle (or motorcycle) wrapped to advertise a known product.
- If you sign up, you may receive a check for a couple thousand dollars, but are asked to deposit it and wire the rest to a company that will wrap your car.
- Weeks after you wire the money, the check bounces and you are out the funds and still responsible for the money you wired. Preloaded gift cards may also be presented as an alternate to wiring funds.
Fraud & Scams Impacting Businesses
Mailbox Theft (Business Checks)
Although this type of fraud is not new, we are seeing a general pattern of theft where criminals are targeting unsecured mailboxes at businesses to steal or photograph checks (incoming and outgoing mail). In the cases we experienced, the stolen check may be altered and exchanged for payment or the check information is used to create and distribute counterfeit business checks.
Ways to prevent this type of theft:
- The best prevention is to use a secured mailbox, especially if you are sending or receiving checks as payment.
- Open and utilize a PO Box at your local post office.
- Collect your mail right away and have a collection plan for weekend mail or if you will be off site during mail delivery times.
- Monitor your business accounts closely with services such as check Positive Pay. Contact our Treasury Management team to get started today.
Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant – Business Identity Theft
We have seen an increase in business identity theft situations in regards to the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant:
- Some businesses have received “notice of potential identity theft” letters in reference to the grant for which they never applied.
- Some businesses have received “notice of denial” letters from various lending institutions about credit applications that were not initiated by the business.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue provides the following information if someone received either of these letters in regards to the Wisconsin Tomorrow Small Business Recovery Grant:
- A business owner, or their authorized representative, may make a request for a copy of the fraudulent grant application by contacting the Department of Revenue customer service line at (608) 266-2772.
- Go to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) website to find FAQs regarding the grant denial letters: datcp.wi.gov/
- Go to IdentityTheft.gov. This is the Federal Trade Commission's website that provides guidance to protecting the customer’s identity.
- Go to the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions at wdfi.org/corporations/#EntityIDTheft for information related to protecting a business.
Business Identity Theft
- Business identity theft occurs when identifying information and documentation is used to impersonate a business entity.
- Criminals may pose as an owner, officer, or employee to obtain money under false pretenses including fraudulently applying for credit.
Once a business becomes aware of any fraudulent activity, here are a few helpful resources and suggestions:
- Obtain a credit report for the affected individual or business from one of the three major credit bureaus at: Equifax, 800-685-1111; Experian, 800-311-4769; TransUnion, 800-888-4213 to see if other potentially fraudulent activity is present.
- Place a fraud alert or credit freeze with any one of the credit reporting agencies listed above.
- Consider a company policy for safeguarding sensitive business identifying or account information.
- Notify your bank. At Bank First, we also recommend setting a password on accounts as an added precautionary measure. These “out of wallet” questions or statements are very effective in thwarting identity fraud.
- Report the incident to your local law enforcement agency and retain a copy of the report.
- Report the incident to FTC for federal reporting.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Fraud/Scam Attempts
- Loan data, such as business name, type of business, address, PPP loan amount, funding date, number of employees, and financial institution, was made public by the SBA in December. In addition to the SBA, there are several online resources where this information is also published.
- As a result, fraudsters are taking advantage of this information and contacting PPP borrowers in an attempt to gain additional information and use it for fraudulent purposes. They may call or email you impersonating the SBA and/or your bank.
While there are legitimate businesses who may reach out to you with various services, we advise using extreme caution. Always be sure to contact your Relationship Manager directly to confirm the validity of any request from the SBA and/or your bank.
We encourage you to visit the SBA's website which provides additional information regarding SBA scam and fraud alerts: https://www.sba.gov/document/report-sba-programs-scams-fraud-alerts.
CEO Phishing Email
- An impersonation of your CEO with an urgent request to perform a task.
- Requested information may include paying a time-sensitive invoice, an urgent wire transfer, or request you to reply with confidential or personal information.
Clues that it's not your CEO: the email address or signature is not correct, the urgent tone of the email, even grammar errors. Verify the request with information you have on file before acting.