First Citizens National Bank’s Smart Women program welcomed two guest speakers Monday to teach women in the community how to look out for scammers and protect themselves against financial fraud.
Vice President of Fraud Management at First Citizens National Bank Chris Hamm and West Tennessee Drug Task Force Special Agent Brent Hill visited the FiftyForward Martin Center to share their experiences and expertise on the subject, walking guests through some of the most common scam scenarios.
“We’re starting to see a lot of these different scams going around,” Hamm said. “There’s nothing new. These things have been going for a while, and you would think, at this point, most people would have heard about these, most people wouldn’t fall for them. Unfortunately, we do have a number of customers fall for them.”
Smart Women has held events like these across Tennessee since last year to help empower women in all stages of life to make confident financial decisions, according to Judy Long, president and COO of First Citizens National Bank.
Long said the idea for this program was born when she was discussing some major life events with a group of women — all related to finance — and realized the information she was seeking was probably being sought by others as well.
“Out of the group, three of us were about to approach retirement,” Long said. “We were in the financial industry and were finding some of the decisions we had to make were kind of overpowering, and we needed more information, so we started to look for experts. And as we were finding the experts and learning the answers to our questions, then we thought, … why would we not, as a group, pull together and try to empower other women to help make good financial decisions about their lives and maybe even start much, much earlier.”
Long explained the goal is to serve the community, so topic suggestions for the events are welcome. She also said anyone is welcome to Smart Women’s free events — even men.
“We welcome smart men too,” she said, playing on the name of the program.
The financial fraud subject affects both men and women. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission collected more than 1.4 million fraud reports, 25% of which resulted in the victims losing money.
Hamm said, though recent statistics suggest that younger people are most widely affected by scams, older age demographics are hit harder, losing more money on average than younger victims.
“It’s not that a person is just gullible or they’re not smart or whatever,” Hamm said. “These people are so convincing. This is all they do all day, every day. They’re really good at what they do.”
The speakers gave some advice concerning lottery, romance, Craigslist, online personal loan and payment card scams, outlining some red flags to look out for and precautions to take.
Identifying lottery scams
Hamm explained some scammers will offer lottery winnings to people under the condition that they pay taxes in advance.
He told the story of a targeted widow who sent over $156,000 to a fraudulent company over the course of months, thinking her winnings (and a new car) were coming her way. He explained that people who live alone will often receive invitations to such scams because they don’t have anyone immediately available to talk to about the unusual letter, email or phone call.
Once someone gets sucked into a scam, Hamm said, everything often seems perfectly plausible.
“You really get brainwashed, so to speak,” he said. “Once a person goes down that road, it’s really hard for us to bring them back.”
His main advice: don’t pursue lottery winnings if you didn’t buy a ticket for it.
Avoiding romance scams
Hamm said most scams nowadays involve the internet in some way, and this particular scam takes advantage of social media and dating sites.
Romance scams, or “catfishing,” occur when someone makes a fake online profile with a fake picture and develops an electronic relationship with their target, eventually asking for money after gaining their trust and affections.
Hamm said oftentimes these scammers will pose as someone working in another country and will ask for travel money — one red flag to look out for.
“A lot of times, they’ll convince you that they’re affiliated with the military in some form or fashion because that gains your trust,” he said.
In this case, meeting in person before giving away money is a safer way to go.
Finding fishy Craigslist deals
As online marketplaces become more and more popular, they have become a natural place for scam artists to cheat people out of money.
Hamm explained that many of these scam accounts will only communicate via email or text, not in person or over the phone, and item prices are often suspiciously low to bait more users.
He said, when dealing with online sales, always complete transactions in person.
Opting out of online personal loan scams
Young people are particularly susceptible to online personal loan scams as they go through stages of making large purchases all at once — houses, cars, college education and more.
Hamm said a common thread with fraudulent loans is the sense of urgency; scammers will often give a short window of only a few hours to send an advance on loan payments to secure the loan.
His advice: talk to others about the decision to take out an online loan.
Protecting payment cards
Hill took over to talk about payment card scams in their many forms.
He began with a popular one: card skimmers at gas pumps. He advised the guests to check the sticker placed near the keypad and screen before filling up. If the seal is broken or pressure paper reveals the word “void,” notify a worker and move onto a different pump. This means the unit has been opened, and there could be an internal skimmer to collect card information.
Hill also said to look out for an extra extended piece on the card scanner, as skimmers can be placed on the outside too.
A safe way for debit card users to avoid giving away all their information is to run it as credit, that way the skimmer can’t pick up the pin associated with the card. However, Hill said he suggests taking a short trip inside and prepaying for gas, avoiding the card scanners at the pump altogether.
He also encourages cardholders to use the First Citizens National Bank SecurLOCK app, which notifies users every time their card is used and allows them to set spending limits and shut off a card at any time with the click of a button. This allows people to keep a closer eye on their accounts, as many initial charges from scammers go undetected.
“(Scammers) will test your card to make sure it’s real, so they’ll hit it for $1.75 or $1.50,” Hill said. “Once it’s hit good, it’s over with. They’re going to start charging and charging and charging.”
He mentioned that many scam artists don’t get caught because authorities only have very little information to go on, which is why taking precautions and immediately reporting suspicious activity is so important for protecting one’s money.
This is why First Citizens National Bank provides resources like SecurLOCK.
“We care about you; we care about your assets,” Long said.
Smart Women is hosting its next event on Thursday, Sept. 19 in Spring Hill on the topic of starting up a business. For more information, visit firstcnb.com/smartwomen.