Don't Get Fooled by Bank Scams

May 5, 2006 — -- Like most scams, the bank examiner scam seems easy to spot, but it still manages to fool vulnerable people and swindle them out of their money. In the fourth installment of my financial scams package, here are some tips on how to spot it and keep your money safe:

A well-dressed, well-spoken man approaches you. He may walk up to you as you leave your bank. He may come to your door. He may call. For that matter, he may even be a she.

He identifies himself as a detective and says he needs your help catching a crooked bank teller. He explains that the teller has been laundering counterfeit money or stealing from customers. He asks you to withdraw money from your bank account so he can examine it. Then he switches your money with counterfeit cash. Or he says he needs to take your money with him to confront the teller. He gives you a receipt and says he'll call you when you can collect the cash. Of course, you never see him again.

It's the age-old bank examiner scam. The con men always claim they're FDIC bank examiners or police officers trying to flush out a crooked bank employee. Often, they use names of actual police officers in the local department. Typically, the scammers approach senior citizens or other people who may be vulnerable. They make the target feel needed and then they make their move. Over the years, crooks have come up with thousands of variations.

The con artists approached Meredith W. by phone. She knew seniors like herself were often the targets of scams, so she showed some moxie. She demanded that the caller prove he was actually a cop. Unfortunately, he was ready for her.

"No problem," he said. "Hang up right now and call 911. Ask for Detective Darwin and the operator will put you through to me."

Meredith hung up. But the con artist did not. Instead, he kept the line open and handed the phone to a female accomplice. When Meredith dialed 911, the crooks were still on the line. The woman answered in an official tone, then "transferred" the call to her partner. "Detective Darwin" persuaded Meredith to withdraw $3,400 from her checking account and hand it over to him later that day.

Her experience can be a learning tool for others. Be very wary when anyone asks you to hand over money for any reason. Law enforcement does not usually do this, so chances are, it's a scam

Do Your Homework:

  • If somebody asks you to withdraw money from your account and hand it over, carefully consider whether this could be a version of the bank examiner scam.
  • Keep in mind that no police department or government agency would ask you to hand over money from your account to help foil a bad bank employee.
  • Look up the number for the bank and the police yourself instead of allowing yourself to be transferred. Call and ask questions.
  • Share this information with elderly friends and loved ones.
  • Where to complain:

    If you are a victim of the bank examiner scam, contact your police department's financial crimes unit.

    Author's note:

    This is the fourth of four columns I've written about classic scams. Please share them with friends and family who may not be familiar with these ploys.

    -- EL

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