For many of us, the holidays are a time for celebrating with family and friends. For others, they’re the High Season of Fraud. Ricardo Velez, fraud prevention and performance manager with Amerant Bank, says “fraudsters” are looking for any opportunity they can find to separate you from your money.
“The holidays are a fun time of year, and I think people are excited to be getting out and traveling and spending money on gifts and treats,” Mr. Velez says. But, he warns, fraudsters are working overtime, hoping to catch people when they’re most easily distracted. “You have to be extra vigilant,” he says. “This is their full-time job and it’s their most lucrative time of year.”
Mr. Velez says fraudsters are getting bolder and ever more sophisticated with their schemes. “They’ve gone digital, too, just like the rest of us,” he says. “It simply opens the door to new ways for them to try and get to your money.” They especially like instant payment services now used by millions of people to make and receive payments. “With real-time transactions like those, fraudsters can quickly get your funds and move on to their next victim.”
Another popular scheme is when “the bank” texts or emails you regarding an “urgent” problem with your account that needs your immediate attention lest your funds be lost forever. “They’ll ask you to provide your credentials so they can take care of it for you,” explains Mr. Velez, who emphasizes that Amerant employees will never ask you for your personal financial information over the phone or by email.
“We maintain rigid adherence to the strictest financial security practices and do everything in our power to safeguard our customers’ accounts every single day,” Mr. Velez says. “We have internal systems and controls that use the latest technology to red-flag suspicious activity the instant it happens.”
But in the end, he says, customers play the biggest role in protecting their online identity and preventing unauthorized access to their accounts. “So many people get tricked into revealing their personally identifiable financial information (PIFI) – especially older customers who oftentimes can be easily confused, flustered and misled.”
Another security risk can happen right at your doorstep, Mr. Velez says. “Thieves are stealing mail right out of people’s mailboxes hoping to find checks or anything else of value.” Once they have a check, he explains, they can alter, forge or counterfeit the item and drain the funds from your account. “People also leave outgoing mail or packages in their mailbox, where they may end up getting picked up by someone other than the mail carrier.”
Whether it’s the holiday season or any time of year, Mr. Velez offers these six tips for keeping your bank accounts safe:
#1. Use Your Phone – You can deposit checks right from your smartphone and schedule recurring payments electronically so that you don’t have to mail checks to your creditors and utility companies. “It’s secure, convenient and free,” Mr. Velez says. “And it saves gas.”
#2. Set Up Alerts – Mr. Velez strongly recommends creating alerts for your online and mobile banking accounts, so you’ll know if there’s an unexpected drop in funds or spending suddenly exceeds pre-set limits.
#3. Protect Your PIFI – Mr. Velez says you should never share your PIFI through email, text or talking on the phone. “Amerant may be where your funds ‘live’, and we provide the security, but you actually hold the keys to your home,” he says, referring to your personal login and password for your Amerant account. “Give those to somebody you don’t know or trust, and they could clean out your funds in a matter of seconds.”
#4. Trust Your Instincts – If you receive a phone call, text message or email about your Amerant account that seems suspicious, Mr. Velez recommends calling the branch where you bank or Amerant’s main toll-free number (1-855 AMERANT) and someone can help you verify if it’s legitimate.
#5. Don’t Use Mailboxes – If you’re mailing anything of value, Mr. Velez suggests taking it to the Post Office. “It may not be as convenient, but it’s far more secure than leaving it in your own mailbox or in a collection bin somewhere.”
#6. Sound The Alarm – Reporting unusual or fraudulent activity on your account as soon as you notice it is your best bet, according to Mr. Velez. “The odds of getting important evidence and collecting funds drop sharply after the first few hours.”
To learn more about Amerant or speak to a banking expert today, visit us online at amerantbank.com.