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Credit Unions Stay One Step Ahead of Internet Scams

Credit Unions Stay One Step Ahead of Internet Scams By Gina Ragusa
Published January 19, 2012
Credit Unions Online
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Plenty of credit unions can more than likely attest to being sideswiped by an Internet predator. Between scams like phishing and skimming, Internet fraud is alive and well. Luckily credit union members are some of the most well informed consumers in the nation due to intensive online fraud education and outreach efforts.

The credit union hallmark approach to member education often includes scenarios of “what to do if you believe your account has been attacked.” Jerry Johnson, President of Georgia Power Valdosta Federal Credit Union ($21.8 million, Valdosta, Georgia) knows all too well about what type of action members should take in the event of an Internet scam.

Last week a fraudulent text message was sent to Georgia Power’s members, telling them their account was deactivated. Although local police were on the case, Johnson sprung into action immediately.

"It was one call right after the other," he told a local newspaper reporter. 
"It was all that we could do to man the phones and to explain to the members and the non-members that it was a scam and to ignore it."

“Members should know that we, nor any financial institution, would ask for confidential, personal information through a text message,” he said. “Members should always verify any kind of request for personal and confidential information by contacting the financial institution via a published or known number, which many of our members and even nonmembers did upon receiving such a text.”

Johnson adds that his employees proactively educate members on the latest financial scams through articles in the credit union’s quarterly newsletters as well a posting articles and messages on its website.

April M. Clobes, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union ($2.13 billion, East Lansing, Michigan) agrees that education is a powerful tool to combat Internet predators.

Like Johnson, her credit union was “invaded” by phishing only a few days ago. She says that the credit union has several resources for identifying the scam du jour. “Sometimes the member will get the email and send it to us, think it seems odd compared to what we would normally send. Also, nonmembers have reached out saying, ‘Hey we got this email why did you send it?’ Additionally, our employees will get the email.”

Clobes says with the recent attempt, the credit union acted quickly and blanketed its membership with an alert.

“Members ended up receiving our email before they even got to the fraudulent message in their in-box. Then our internal programmers went to work shutting down the site so if the member clicks through they would receive an error message.”

She adds that even though a handful of members told the credit union they clicked through to the fraudulent site, her team compromised the member’s account, replaced important account numbers and any sensitive information in order to protect the member.

How Can You Beat the Scammers At Their Own Game?

Clobes provides insightful tips to help you stay ahead of Internet scammers:

  • When you get an email, make sure it makes sense…does it look like emails from the credit union? “Scam emails have a sense of urgency saying that you must do x, y, z or you cannot access account…they want to scare you.”
  • Often, the message is written by someone from a foreign country, so the translation will be choppy or incorrect.
  • Scam emails or texts are to a “customer” instead of a member. “Credit unions would never call you a customer.”
  • “In our case emails always personalized. While not all credit unions may do this, pick up on the nuances that may be different from other correspondence you’ve received from your credit union .”
  • Check the address bar. If you click on the link in the email, check the address bar. The scammer can’t change that, but unfortunately, no one looks there so people get duped. “In our case, we have an extended validation certificate so the address bar turns green. You should also check for security locks.”

She adds that members should remember that, “Your credit union would never, ever ask you to supply your account number because they should already know what it is.” Members are advised to contact their credit union immediately if they are suspicious or have any question whatsoever about an email or message.

Now that you know what you can do to protect yourself, think about whether your bank would take similar steps in the event of an attack. Find a credit union and learn more about how to stay safe.

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