How to avoid being scammed

• Never give out personal information, including Social Security number and bank account information.

• Hide your passwords. If you store passwords on your phone, keep your phone locked.

• Research lenders and employers. Read online reviews. Google their phone number and address.

• Sign up for email alerts about online banking activity. Changes in contact information are a sign of fraud.

• Use an app that allows you to control your debit card remotely. Parents who have joint accounts with their children can limit transactions by amount or type of merchant.

Source: SELCO Community Credit Union

Speaking to high school classes throughout Central Oregon about personal finance, Julie Rugg sees a lot of guilty expressions when she brings up a big no-no: sharing debit card pass codes.

“They’ll give their debit card to a friend, and say, ‘Go get me Dutch Brothers,’” said Rugg, Central Oregon outreach volunteer for Financial Beginnings Oregon. “It’s very difficult to get money back into your account if that PIN number’s used.”

Many young fraud victims have been surprised to find out that on top of losing the money in their accounts, they’re on the hook for negative balances, said Stephanie Zeigler, fraud supervisor at SELCO Community Credit Union.

“It’s a very difficult situation when people are in need of funds,” Zeigler said. “Then if you end up being the victim of a scam and you owe money, you’re in a potentially worse situation than when you started.”

With a new school year underway, Zeigler said SELCO, which is headquartered in Eugene and has offices around the state, is trying to educate high school and college students about ways they could be targeted.

The scams often involve an offer of easy money, either through a job that requires no qualifications or for a student loan, Zeigler said. The offers are made online in venues where young people are comfortable, such as Snapchat or the chat function of a video game, she said.

“That specific generation of people have a solid grasp on technology. They’re very comfortable having relationships or interactions with people they haven’t met in person,” Zeigler said. “They haven’t been exposed to the more traditional job applications or loan processes.”

Federal Trade Commission data on fraud complaints suggests people in their 20s could be more vulnerable than elderly people.

Among people reporting fraud in 2017, the age group with the highest rate of monetary loss was20-somethings at 40 percent, according to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Just 18 percent of people in their 70s and 80s who reported fraud lost money, though they tended to lose much more than young people.

FTC spokeswoman Juliana Gruenwald said the agency doesn’t have an explanation for the higher rate of losses among younger people and noted that the data comes from consumers self-reporting rather than a scientific survey.

Bend cybersecurity expert Lewis Howell, CEO of Hueya, Inc., said there’s really no difference between younger and older generations when it comes to online behavior.

His company, which created a phishing scam simulator for large organizations, finds that in every practice run, more than one person will open the bad email or link, he said.

Howell admits, though, that the use of payment apps such as Venmo can make separating people from their money a much faster process.

Regardless of who’s most vulnerable, Rugg, a retired high school math teacher, believes young people are an under-educated audience.

“There’s quite a support system to help older people,” she said. Through AARP, elderly people receive a lot of information about scams, she said. “My mom is 84. She’s constantly on the lookout.”

Financial Beginnings Oregon offers classes to adults and kids of all ages, but its core program is taught in high schools.

Last school year about 3,000 students in Central Oregon were taught by the organization’s volunteers, most of whom come from the banking industry, Program Director Priscilla Wagner said.

Most of the scams targeting young people boil down to an offer that’s too good to be true with a modern twist.

One teenage SELCO member was offered a job as a “bookkeeper” through Snapchat, Zeigler said. The girl was told that her bookkeeping tasks would consist of depositing checks into her personal account, and then sending the money back out. But all the checks were fraudulent, and the victim lost nearly $8,000.

Similarly, student loan scammers will offer an easy application process with no credit check, Zeigler said. They’ll ask for a bank account number, or the user name and password for online banking. They’ll make a deposit in the account. Then they’ll tell the student that because there’s no credit check, the money should be sent back via Western Union.

“‘That’s how we’ll know you’re trustworthy,’” Zeigler said. “In reality, the money they’re depositing is a fake check. They’re left with a negative balance.”

Other scams manipulate young people through social or romantic connections, Zeigler said. Con artists are showing up at events such as high school football games, making friends and offering to help teens make quick money. Or they might say, “I don’t have a bank account, but I need to get this check cashed,” she said.

“The fraudsters are really good at what they do,” said Kyle Frick, spokesman for Mid Oregon Credit Union.

The credit union sees an array of scams perpetrated on both young people and elderly people. Frick agreed that young people seem to be targeted through their online presence and use of dating and social media apps. “That gives them something to work with.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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