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How to help protect yourself from phishing

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Keeping your financial accounts and information safe is critically important to us. That’s why we’re proactively advancing our security and continually investing in account safety measures, such as strong encryption software and ongoing monitoring of suspicious activity.

We also want to help you avoid fraudulent schemes. Email and text message scams, known as phishing, can be difficult to distinguish from legitimate messages. They may impersonate a reputable company and include an urgent request for you to update your information, secure your account, verify your identity, or confirm a transaction. You may be prompted to call a phone number, sign on to a fraudulent website, or respond with personal or account information. Learn how to detect and report suspicious email and text messages, also known as ‘SMS phishing’ or ‘smishing’, that appear to be from your bank.

What is phishing?

Phishing is usually a two-part scam involving an email or text message containing links to a fraudulent website requesting sensitive information such as username, password, and account details. Once obtained, your personal and financial information can be used to access your account and steal money.

How to recognize a phishing email

Phishing emails are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to distinguish from legitimate emails. By impersonating a reputable company’s communications, these emails tend to use clever and compelling language, such as an urgent need for you to update your information or communicate with you for your security. To spot a phishing email, look for a combination of red flags. In this example, notice:

1. Non-bank email address: The email address of the sender does not include the wellsfargo.com domain name, instead using something like “comcast.net”: WellsOnlineBank2@comcast.net.

2. Urgent call to action: The email includes an urgent request in the subject line and message copy, such as “for your protection and for security reasons.” Phishing emails may also contain extra spacing or unusual punctuation in addition to other red flags.

3. Suspicious URL: The email contains a link to a non-Wells Fargo URL, which could be a fraudulent website. If you’re using a laptop or desktop computer, you can check a link’s URL by hovering over it with your cursor, and the URL will show in your browser window.

How to recognize smishing

Phishing texts use similar techniques as phishing emails: a sense of urgency to secure your account or verify your identity, using words like “locked,” “deactivated”, or “for your protection” to describe your account status. These texts may prompt you to call a phone number, click on a link, or respond directly with personal or account information. To spot a phishing text, look for a combination of red flags. In this example, notice:

1. Suspicious sender: The text was sent by an unknown phone number, instead of one of Wells Fargo’s official short codes: 93557, 93733, 93729, or 54687.

2. Unusual text treatments: The text message contains a combination of unusual text treatments, including all caps, arrows, ID numbers, and an exclamation point.

3. Unprompted identity request: The request to verify the recipient’s identity was unprompted. Wells Fargo will request to verify your identity via access code only when prompted by an action that you have initiated, such as signing on to online banking or sending money.

What you can do to help protect yourself

• Don’t click on links, open attachments, or respond to unexpected emails or text messages from suspicious or unknown senders.

• Don’t share your online banking password with anyone.

• Don’t sign on to your account from a link in a suspicious message. Access a company’s website by using a reputable search engine or typing the entire URL into your browser. For Wells Fargo, type https://wellsfargo.com or use the Wells Fargo Mobile® app.

If you receive an unexpected request for information from your bank

Verify it by calling the number on the back of your debit or credit card. For more information on how to spot and report suspicious emails or text messages that appear to be from Wells Fargo, go to https://wellsfargo.com/nophishing.

This blog was provided by Wells Fargo, generous supporters of our Safe School Institute.

Catfishing, A Multi-Million Dollar Fraud Scheme

Catfishing has evolved from a cruel prank into a multi-million dollar fraud scheme. Dictionaries recently added the following definition: cat·fish, /ˈkatˌfiSH/, to lure (someone) into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. For example: “He was being catfished by a cruel prankster.”  IC3.gov, the FBI’s website for online crime, received 68,013 complaints in 2019 from victims over the age of 60 with adjusted losses in excess of $835 million. Many of these victims were the targets of catfishing schemes.

There are ways to tell if someone may be catfishing you. First, remember these are professional con men (and women) who will spend months cultivating a relationship. They also have researched their victims extensively before making contact. They know your likes and dislikes.

Fraudsters use photos of others to lure victims. One way to check this is by downloading their photo and doing an image search on google. Unfortunately, if someone looks too good to be true they probably are. It is important to remember that these scams are not limited to romance. Scammers will often impersonate sympathetic persons like deployed soldiers, the disabled, etc. in order to develop a relationship with you.

Many scammers will identify a target and pursue them relentlessly by sending flowers, love poetry, small gifts, etc. Scammers find targets on legitimate websites then try to convince the target to move their conversations to a messaging service like WhatsApp. Scammers do this because legitimate sites are good at detecting fraud but it typically takes a few weeks for the fraudster’s true nature to be discovered. Someone pressuring you to move quickly off the platform you meet is a huge red flag.

Scammers will usually tell you that their job sends them around the world. They talk regularly about arranging “physical” contact but it is always cancelled, usually at the last minute. Their social media usage is sparse. The cancelled meetings and lack of social media posts are usually explained by saying how busy they are. The fraudsters make up for their failure to meet you in person by sending menial gifts and saying they bought it for you while on their business trip. It is not uncommon for fraudsters to spend months cultivating a relationship with their target.

Once the victim is on the hook, the scammer will send a frantic communication about how they are in financial trouble overseas and promise to pay money back when they get back to the US. Some scammers will even pay back the money in order to set you up for the true scam. One example is a fraudster asking for $10,000 to pay a storage company to release needed equipment. The fraudster then returns the money within a few days. A couple weeks later, the fraudster will ask for more money or present a business investment opportunity that is really a scam.

Fraudsters also use catfishing to find people to help them with the fraud. They may ask you to set up a business name and business bank account for them. By doing this you may have committed money laundering by helping the fraudster possess or receive the criminal proceeds of their scams. At a minimum, opening a bank account for someone and receiving money on their behalf is a felony.

Many fraudsters are outside the United States. These criminals take advantage of people solely because it’s an easy way for them to steal money without having to rob a bank. These schemes evolve as technology changes so it is important to do what you can to protect yourself from these con men.

The Transformational Story of Pepper

The Transformational Story of Pepper

It was a Tuesday morning in early October when an Animal Cruelty Officer responded to a call in Acres Homes in Northwest Houston. A caller reported that an animal had been sitting out in the yard for months, with serious matting, and obvious sign of neglect. As the officer approached the house, he saw a small brown dog and three large dogs. It was obvious the small dog was severely neglected and in distress. Her hair was overgrown and matted in giant clumps all over her body, soaked in her own feces and urine, weighing her down. This dog was black, but her fur was bleached to almost white, evidence that she was sitting in her own urine. When asked about this case, Officer Farmer said, “I have been doing animal crime investigations for 11 years, and this was in the top 10% worst matting cases I’ve seen.”

Upon talking to the homeowner, the officer learned this dog was actually not the homeowners. A friend was moving to an apartment, and asked this friend to hold their dog while they moved. Unfortunately, they never returned for their dog and ignored calls and texts from the homeowner about getting their dog or why it was in this condition. It is confounding why people like the homeowner had this dog in their possession for months, but did nothing. “A lot of people put blinders on when they see something like this, but it is very important to call when you see any of these instances,” said Officer Farmer. “Any type of cruelty need to be reported so we can save these animals lives.” Later they would be fined and served a misdemeanor for cruelty to animals.

Shaky, afraid, and whimpering in pain, the dog was immediately seized by the officer and transported to Houston Humane Society to begin her health assessment and treatment. Upon arrival to Houston Humane Society, the veterinarian team assessed her health status and reported all signs of cruelty. She was very sensitive to touch and in pain with every movement due to the severe matting. She also tested positive for hookworm, heartworm, moderate dental disease, and a flea infestation.

With their generous donation, a local groomer showed up at Houston Humane Society to give her a life-changing groom. When all her matted hair was removed, the pile of matted hair that laid beside her as big as she was. After what could have been a lifetime of neglect and pain, this new dog, affectionately named Pepper, was transformed to a spunky, sweet dog wanting nothing more than endless belly rubs.

When Houston Humane Society receives these animal cruelty cases, they are housed at the shelter for weeks. Owners must be held responsible at court, after which there is an additional 10 or more-day waiting period for the owner to appeal, depending on the county. Not only do animal shelters like Houston Humane Society help save these animals lives, they also house and rehabilitate all animals brought to them for care. Houston Humane Society relies solely on donations form the community, making each contribution so valuable to save these cruelty survivors and help them recover from trauma.

By the end of October, Pepper had gotten so much love and attention and all the staff and volunteers were excited and hopeful when she was put up for adoption. Just four days after being put up for adoption, Pepper found her forever home. A couple came in searching for a dog to add to their family. Upon meeting Pepper the bond was instant, Pepper had chosen her family.

This is their first family dog together, and they couldn’t be more thrilled about the addition to their home. “We were struggling with starting a family, and after a lot of challenges, Pepper has brought us hope,” her new owner shares, “Pepper brought us back to reality and is helping heal the pain and making a lot of changes. The house is more positive and warm. Taking care of someone else brings us joy. All our friend and family love Pepper as well.”

When asked about the importance of adopting survivors of animal cruelty and shelter animals, the owner said, “for any family looking for a pet, adoption is the better way to go versus buying from a breeder. Just like foster kids need a home, homeless animals need a home too. Adopting makes me feel a lot better and knowing my money is going to a good cause. I also liked how I was able to get all the information I needed for Pepper. It was a great experience because I knew what to do for Pepper. And it really saves a life.”

Pepper was also heartworm positive, which required a $300-dollar treatment over the course of 3 months where the dog’s activity must be kept low. Many heartworm positive dogs have a harder time getting adopted, when asked about this, Peppers owner said, “I was discouraged at first about the heartworm treatment having an extra cost. I realized I could spend $300 dollars at Target or $300 saving a life and it was an easy answer for me. It is saving a life.”

It has almost been 3 months since Pepper was adopted, she is almost finished with her heartworm treatment, and she is living her best life. Her favorite thing to do is be around her humans. “She loves to be around people […] When it comes to people, her tail is wagging and she loves having companionship with people.” Like Pepper, there are so many great dogs out there. Do not turn a blind eye to dogs like Pepper. Report all cruelty. You can call 832-927-PAWS or online at 927PAWS.org and save a life.

The Sad Facts About Teen Dating Violence

Do you remember jumping off the monkey bars and a parent or teacher telling you to stop before you get hurt? But then you ignored them and continued to jump anyway. And before you knew it, all it took was one wrong landing and your arm is broken moments later. You find yourself laying there wondering how you are going to tell the very same people who told you to stop, that you need help; fear of being shamed, or embarrassed. But there they are to pick you back up and take you to get a cast, comforting you while you wait, putting aside the frustration that they told you to quit jumping and just assuming that you’ll learn your lesson for next time.

As I tell this to the students who I am presenting to that day, they chuckle as they remember the time the were in this situation. The smiles turn to sadness as I then continue with, “that’s what it can feel like to the teens who are dealing with teen dating violence.” As I look around the room, faces turn red and others make eye contact with each other. Either they know someone dealing with it, or they are going through it themselves. 75% of Texas 16-24-year-olds have either experienced dating violence or know another young person who has.

I always ask them what they think of when they hear the word violence, or abuse. They don’t hesitate to say fighting, hitting, kicking, punching, etc. This is why it is hard for teens and others to recognize the signs of dating violence, because there’s a blurred idea that it is only physical. Teen dating violence is defined as the physical, psychological, emotional or sexual violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.  It can occur in person or electronically and can occur between a current or former dating partner.

Teens vicariously live through technology, where connections, relationships and friendship or no longer exclusively in person. They can talk to whoever they want at any time, any place. But, because of this:

  • Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.
  • Victims of digital abuse and harassment are 2 times as likely to be physically abused, 2.5 times as likely to be psychologically abused, and 5 times as likely to be sexually coerced.
  • 1 in 4 dating teens is abused or harassed online or through texts by their partners
  • 1 in 5 victims say they experienced digital abuse or harassment at school and during school hours (most takes place away from school grounds).

Have you been concerned for someone’s well-being and noticed changes? Those changes could be a result of being a victim of dating violence. The National Domestic Violence Hotline listed signs as a checklist to bring awareness of what this can look like to outsiders:

  • Their partner puts them down in front of other people
  • They are constantly worried about making their partner angry
  • They make excuses for their partner’s behavior
  • Their partner is extremely jealous or possessive
  • They have unexplained marks or injuries
  • They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family
  • They are depressed or anxious, or you notice changes in their personality

According to Love is Respect, “82% of parents feel confident that they could recognize the signs if their child was experiencing dating abuse, a majority of parents (58%) could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.

The question I often get from teens is, “why don’t they just leave?” While it can seem like there is a common sense answer; for those who are battling dating violence, there is no “easy” way out. They are being guilted into thinking it is their fault, they are terrified of the repercussions of leaving, being judged, not being believed, having a false idea of abuse being love, belief that dating violence is acceptable due to violence in the home or past experiences, etc.

Students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse – 57% say it is difficult to identify, and 58% say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.

A few healthy things friends/family can assist a fellow classmate or friend with, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is to:

  • Acknowledge that they are in a very difficult and scary situation, be supportive and listen
  • Be non-judgmental
  • Help them develop a safety plan
  • Encourage them to talk to people who can provide help and guidance
  • Remember that you cannot ‘rescue’ them

As a parent or guardian of the teen, also remember to:

  • Accept what your child is telling you, listen and be supportive. Even when you don’t understand or agree with their decisions, try not to judge them. It can make them feel worse.
  • Allow them to make up their own mind. Leaving an unhealthy or abusive relationship may be difficult and even dangerous. Avoid blaming or belittling comments. Abusive partners usually put down their victims regularly, so your loved one’s self-esteem may already be low.
  • Even though helping can be frustrating, don’t give up. More than anything, they need to know they can trust you and rely on you.
  • Don’t prevent them from seeing their abusive partner. This can cause them to feel as if they need to keep secrets from you, as well as feel as if decision-making is being taken away from them.

Safe Shopping

The holidays are quickly approaching and with the holidays comes shopping season. Although Black Friday is still the busiest shopping day of the year for retailers, the number of people physically shopping in stores has declined drastically over the past few years. With the rise of cyber shopping, people are more and more inclined to stay home and shop from the comfort of their couch rather than brave the large crowds over the holiday season. In 2018 alone, Black Friday yielded a record breaking $6.22 billion in online sales. While cyber shopping might be more convenient and seemingly less dangerous than in-person shopping there are still plenty of safety concerns to take into consideration while ordering your way through the holidays.

Protect your finances. Shopping online can put you at risk for getting scammed or having your finances compromised. To ensure maximum security while online shopping make sure to follow these steps:

• Research online retailers to ensure their legitimacy. If a deal seems just too good to be true, it very well may be. A good way to make sure a website is secure is to look for the padlock symbol in the address bar to the website. To find out who has registered the site, you can click the padlock to see the site certificate containing this information. If you get a warning message about the site certificate, do not purchase from this website.

• Do not use public wifi to make purchase or check bank accounts. Often times public wifi is not secure and therefore the information you use while connected to that wifi could be accessed for fraudulent purposes. If you MUST use the internet while away from home for shopping or banking, use your mobile data instead of public wifi.

• If possible, make an account for retailers before purchasing products and then use that account for all purchases going forward. This allows all purchases to be traced quickly and adds another layer of protection for your personal information like your credit card number.

• Look for websites that use two-step authentication for purchases. A common form of two-step authentication is when a website sends you a text message with a one-time use code to ensure it is actually you who is making the purchase. Two-step authentication is a simple way for retailer to ensure it is actually you who is attempting an online purchase.

Protect your packages. Porch pirates, or criminals who steal packages left outside doors by couriers, are out in full force during the holiday season. Here are a few quick tips to help protect your packages from thieves:

• If possible, schedule a time for your packages to be delivered when you know you will be home

• If you do not have the option of scheduling delivery times, track your packages closely and ask a trusted neighbor to pickup your packages from your doorstep as soon as they are delivered. Alternatively, consider having packages delivered to a work address.

• Consider video surveillance for your front porch. Security cameras or video doorbells can be used to monitor your front porch and can often deter thieves from taking your packages. Video doorbells can also be extremely helpful if providing proof if a package does ever get stolen.

Whether you are shopping in stores or online this holiday season, we hope you will take extra precautions this year to keep yourself safe! As always, it is important for you to pay close attention to your surroundings and maintain a safety mindset while shopping both in person and online. We wish you a happy, and safe holiday season!