Consumer advice: Take this tip to the bank

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Just this week, I have received an unusually large number of reports of bank account hacking and fraud. In that most of our transactions are electronic, it often happens before you know it.

Fake bank drafts, account info phishing and account “verification testing” are some of the scams that begin with an unwary consumer receiving a small, almost unnoticeable deposit. The scammer finds your banking information online, and then sends a very small deposit to your bank account. Once the scammer confirms that your bank has accepted the deposit, the scammer then attempts to use a bank draft to transfer funds from the your bank account to the scammer’s account. Once the transfer is successful, the scammer immediately withdraws the purloined funds and closes the account. The scammer’s accounts are always opened using stolen identities and then quickly drained once funds are received.

HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF? Check your bank balances as often as you can, at least once daily — either by automated phone service or online. If you notice any small amount being deposited, withdrawn or transferred — immediately contact the bank’s fraud department, report the transaction and ideally close the account. Open a new account, using a different online name and password.

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APPLE CARE IT’S NOT: Apple does not use pop-ups to communicate with customers — EVER! Neither does Microsoft. If you are surfing along on your computer and you get a popup informing you to call “1-888-888-8000” (for example) — DON’T! If you do, you will instantly be connected to a telephone bank of scam artists.

Unfortunately, the sudden appearance of one sort of dire warning or another is specifically designed to bolt you into panic — turn off your critical-thinking ability — and instantly compel you to pick up the phone and start calling the scammer’s number as the popup directs.

What you should do is this: Turn off the computer, and for goodness sake, don’t reach for your credit card! Instead, call me — that simple, (Please try not to call between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. That’s when I try to get some sleep or write this twice-weekly column!)

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HOW’S YOUR CREDIT RATING?: Believe it or not, there’s an app available for both android and Apple smartphones that will provide you an instant, uncomplicated read on your credit rating — for FREE! You can also go to the website on any computer at: https://bit.ly/SYX8Es

This website provides a fairly accurate representation of both your TransUnion and Equifax score, two of the three major credit reporting agencies. You will be asked for personal information, but only once. The information is necessary to identify you and get an approximation of your actual score. There’s no catch, but they do try to sell stuff.

The website is very useful if you’re coming back from a financial stutter step like a bankruptcy or financial misstep. My recommendation is to do your actual credit card shopping elsewhere, someplace like: https://www.bankrate.com/

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AN OLDIE BUT A GOODIE: Publishers Clearing House Scam Call — WARNING — BAD LANGUAGE IN THIS ONE — Go to: https://bit.ly/2vpzrKk

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DANGEROUS AREA CODES: One of my readers stopped me at lunch the other day and asked if I would publish a list of area codes not to return calls to or answer calls from. The FCC says you should never call back numbers in these area codes: 268, 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849 and 876.

There are others, but these seem to be the ones that are popular with the scammers this week. From time to time I’ll add more to this ever-expanding list.

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QUICK LIST FOR THE HALL OF SHAME: Be aware, if you get a call having anything to do with these subjects it’s almost certainly a scam — HANG UP IMMEDIATELY:

• Calls from the “IRS”

• Incoming calls to “help you” including calls from Tech Support, Microsoft or Apple

• Phony debt collection calls. They’re a constant source of irritation. Tell them not to call anymore. If they’re legitimate it will stop the calls.

• Fake “charity” donation calls. Remember, we have a secret weapon against these scammers: go to www.CharityNavigator.org.

• Student Loan collection or consolidation offers. They are all scams.

One funny story: A woman called me this week and told me about a call she got from a scammer offering to help her pay off her student loans. She let the caller go on and on with his crooked spiel. To be safe, she gave him a false name, address and so on.

Toward the end of the conversation, he asked her what school she went to and what year she graduated. She told him the school and went on to inform him she had graduated at the top of her class — in 1928! She happened to be a very sharp, young-sounding 96-year-old! She could have fooled me. She laughed at the would-be scammer and hung up. Score one for the Seniors!

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LOOKING FOR LETTERS OR EMAILS: I’m going to try something new. If you have a question you’d like me to address in this column, you can write me a snail mail letter to 3544 Highland Drive, Coeur d’Alene 83815 or email me your question at: brookshomes@gmail.com

Please keep it short and to the point. I will not publish all letters and I will shorten them for publication. I will only include your first name for confidentiality reasons. Always include a phone number so I can call you directly. It should be a fun addition to this column. We can all learn from each others’ questions.

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REMEMBER BILL BROOKS: “He’s On Your Side”

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I have many more tips and interesting cases that I’m working on. Call me at 208-699-0506, or email me at brookshomes@gmail.com. You can follow me at www.billbrooks.us. I am available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. Bill Brooks is a consumer advocate and the broker and owner of Bill Brooks Real Estate in Coeur d’Alene.

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