Beware the ‘bank investigator’ scam

Released: March 20, 2024 at 11:19 a.m.

Reposted from the March 20, 2024 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press Community Review. 

Fraudsters use a wide variety of scams to catch their victims off guard, which allows the fraudsters to obtain money, information, and/or access to confidential services from people who would normally not provide them.

One classic scheme is known as the ‘bank investigator scam’. Though the premise of this scam has been around for a long time, the technology used to extract funds and convince the victim to act on the demands of the fraudster have become even more sophisticated, owing to the use of texts and emails, cryptocurrencies, and social engineering.

There are countless variations on this scam but, generally, a fraudster will phone you and impersonate a bank, credit card, or shopping website employee or investigator. They will request your assistance to help catch an employee who is stealing, to resolve suspicious purchases, or to confirm large money transfers from your accounts. The scammer will then try to get you to withdraw money or purchase gift cards, send money by various other means, or attempt to gain access to your online banking.

Woman with credit card in hand at computer fretting over transaction.
Always be on guard when receiving unsolicited calls. Phone numbers and display names can be spoofed to appear as anything.

Human factors these scammers will use are things such:

• calling early in the morning or late at night to catch you when you are tired;

• instilling panic by indicating you have been, or could be, at a huge financial loss;

• trying to gain your trust or confidence by being professional and taking steps to verify your identity.

Let’s look at a common scenario. It’s early Saturday morning and you wake up to a phone call. The display name is your bank, and the phone number is the one from the back of your debit card. The caller identifies himself as a bank employee and asks about a $10,000 money transfer from your account. The employee says, “This wasn’t you, I’ll put you on with an investigator right away.” The investigator wants to confirm your identity and sends you a one-time passcode from the bank and asks you to read it.

While it all seems and sounds legitimate, this interaction gave the fraudster the ability to reset your online banking passwords and free rein to empty the account.

This is one example, and there are always new variations. Educate yourself by visiting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website:

Some ways to protect yourself:

• Always be on guard when receiving unsolicited calls. Phone numbers and display names can be spoofed to appear as anything;

• If a call is unsolicited, say you will call back. Hang up and wait 10 minutes and call back on a trusted, not provided, phone number;

• Don’t rush into things. Take a moment and ask yourself if this actually makes sense. Scammers try to incite a panic response, so you act before you think about what you are doing;

• Don’t be afraid to ask a trusted person if something seems legitimate;

• Never give remote access to your computer or download unknown apps;

• Never provide security/two-factor authentication codes to anyone;

• Banks will never ask you to transfer funds to an external account for security reasons; nor will they ask you to assist and participate in an investigation.

March is Fraud Prevention Month, so the Free Press Community Review is running stories from the Winnipeg Police Service on its annual campaign to help you recognize, report and reject fraud.

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