8 Common Online Bank Scams and How to Avoid Them

By Sarah Li Cain · April 02, 2024 · 9 minute read

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8 Common Online Bank Scams and How to Avoid Them

These days, it’s all too easy to get sucked into a bank scam. The reason is that scammers, and their scams, are getting increasingly sophisticated. According to the latest Federal Trade Commission data, consumers lost more than $10 billion to fraud in 2023, a 14% increase over reported losses in 2022. The most commonly reported scam category in 2023 was imposter scams, which saw significant increases in reports of both business and government impersonators.

Scammers often use savvy tactics to commit fraud that make it hard to cancel or reverse the transaction. As a result, one of the best ways to protect your hard-earned cash is to be aware of what’s out there. Learn what the most common bank account scams are and how to spot them.

1. Overpayment Scams

If you sell products online, you could inadvertently be hoodwinked by this popular scam. Here, the fraudster will pose as a buyer and send you a check or money order for more than the purchase price. Then, they’ll ask you to refund the difference either through an online payment or wire transfer. But the original payment type was fraudulent, meaning you lose the refunded money. If you already sent the item you “sold” them, you’ll lose that too. But it doesn’t end there: You’ll likely also be on the hook for a returned item fee from the bank.

How to Avoid Them

If you ever receive an overpayment, your best bet is to ask the buyer to void it and send the correct amount.

2. Check Cashing Scams

This scheme appeals to your compassion. A scammer approaches you outside your bank to see if you would be willing to cash a check for them. They explain that they don’t have any ID on them or don’t have a checking account at that particular bank and really need the money. You deposit the check and, since it generally takes time for a check to clear, you give them the amount it’s written for from your own funds. Days or weeks later, the bank comes back to you and says the check is fake, and you’re responsible for the withdrawn amount, plus any fees.

How to Avoid Them

You’re better off saying no to anyone who asks you to cash a check for them, no matter what reason they give. You never know, and it’s not a good idea to risk it.

Recommended: Avoiding Mobile Deposit Scams, Fakes, and Hacks

3. Unsolicited Check Fraud

This banking scam involves a check you get in the mail. It might be described as a “rebate check,” a refund on an overpayment, or prize money for a contest you’ve won, even though you don’t remember entering one. You deposit it into the bank — why not?

Here’s why: There may be some (very) fine print on the front or back of the check stating that by cashing the check you are entering into a legally binding contract — one you likely don’t want to enter. It might be a membership with monthly fees, a loan, or other long-term commitment that ends up costing you far more than the “free” check you deposited.

How to Avoid Them

Be sure to double check any unsolicited checks with your bank before cashing or depositing them.

4. Automatic Withdrawal Scams

Also known as automatic debit scams, these involve unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account — typically checking accounts. Scammers get access to your bank account numbers through fraudulent telemarketer calls or by stealing them from unsecured websites when you sign up for a free trial.

Once a scammer has access to your account information, they set up an automatic withdrawal. When your bank receives the draft, they transfer money from your checking account to pay the scammer. Unless you pay close attention to your daily bank transactions, you may not notice the scam until much later.

How to Avoid Them

It’s a good policy to never share sensitive information over the phone, unless it’s with a trusted friend or family member.

Also make sure you only use encrypted websites when entering your bank information: Look for “https://” before the URL (not “https://”) and a locked padlock in the left corner of the address bar.

5. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are particularly tricky because they come dressed as emails or texts from trusted companies you already know. The message may even mention suspicious activity on a personal account, such as your savings or checking account.

Typically, you need to click on a link in the email or text, and then complete an action like confirming personal information. When you click through, it usually looks like the website from your bank or the company in question. So you tap in the required information (which may be a password, account numbers, or some other type of personal information). The scammers now have your sensitive data.

How to Avoid Them

If you get an email or text warning you of suspicious activity or a compromised account, and asks you to click on a link, don’t. Instead, head to the website for the financial institution or company, and log into your account there. If there aren’t any notices asking you to update your information, chances are it’s a phishing scam.

6. Government Imposter Scams

A fraudster will contact you by phone, email, or text posing as a representative from a government or law enforcement agency (like the IRS, Medicare, or the FBI). They may ask you to provide personal information needed to issue a payment (like for a tax refund) or tell you that you owe money and need to make a payment immediately. The imposter could even threaten to put you in jail if you don’t reveal your personal information or send payment.

How to Avoid Them

Don’t engage with anyone who makes this type of contact. The reality is that a federal agency will never call, email, or text you and ask for personal information or a payment of any kind. This is not a strategy the government uses to collect payments or to get missing information on tax returns or other forms.

7. Charity Scams

Sadly, many scammers play on people’s compassion, kindness, and generosity to line their own pockets. A charity scammer might contact you by phone, email, or ringing your doorbell. They claim to represent a real (or real-sounding organization) and tell you in detail about an urgent need or crisis. They often flash legit-looking IDs.

You want to help, so you give them cash, a check, or, perhaps, your credit card or bank account information for a recurring donation. Unfortunately, they aren’t connected to any type of nonprofit organization and you’ve given funds or sensitive financial information to a scammer.

How to Avoid Them

If you’re approached by a charitable organization asking for money, don’t give right away — even if you fully believe in the cause. Instead, look up the charity to see whether it’s legitimate. There are online databases, such as Charity Watch, that will let you know if the organization is real, as well as exactly how the group will use your donation. If you’re still interested in giving to that charity, you can then reach out to them yourself and make a donation.

8. Employment Scams

A job scammer posts an enticing ad on a job board. The job they’re offering sounds too tempting to pass up. It might be a work-from-home set-up, the chance to be a mystery shopper, or a job that pays a full-time salary for part-time work. Before the employer can onboard you, however, you’ll need to pay a fee or supply your bank account information and other personal details so they can pay you. It’s all a front to get you to part with your money.

How to Avoid Them

Use only reputable job boards when job hunting and verify the position directly before sending any personal information. If a job offer sounds suspicious, research the company, check online reviews, and find out if there have been any complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s site before applying.

Also know that applying for a job should never involve paying a fee, even one supposedly needed to process your application or conduct background screening. If you encounter this scenario, the job is unfortunately too good to be true.

Recommended: Different Types of Bank Account Fraud to Look Out For

More Tips on How to Protect Yourself From Bank Fraud

To make sure you don’t inadvertently fall for a bank scam, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

Know the Red Flags

While today’s scammers are increasingly sophisticated, there are some red flags that can give them away:

•   You need to act urgently.

•   You’re threatened with law enforcement or a government agency action.

•   You’re told to purchase gift cards and provide codes as a form of payment.

•   You need to mobile deposit a check and then transfer cash from your account to the person or company that wrote the check.

Don’t Trust Strangers

Never cash a check for someone you don’t know, no matter what reasons they give you. Also refrain from engaging with unknown callers on the phone, even if they have government agency names as their caller ID.

Contact Your Bank

If you receive any calls, emails, or texts from your financial institution asking for information, don’t respond directly. Instead, reach out to your bank on your own using the phone number listed on your statement or debit card. You only want to provide information when you have initiated the conversation using a vetted contact number.

Stay Up to Date With Your Bank Statement

It’s important to carefully check your monthly bank statements, whether you view them online or receive them by mail. This will allow you to spot any suspicious activity right away. The sooner you catch and report a scam, generally the easier it is to resolve the situation.

The Takeaway

These days, scammers can come off as entirely believable — they can fake the caller ID and may already have a lot of your data so they sound like they’re legitimate. Fortunately, by knowing the red flags and all the latest scams for stealing your hard-earned cash, you can protect yourself and your bank account.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall. Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


How do bank scams work?

Bank scams usually involve someone asking for your banking or personal info — like account numbers, passwords, PIN codes — for a seemingly legit reason. They may have a “real” caller ID or a website that looks exactly like your bank’s. Once you provide or input your information, however, they use it to drain your account.

What bank information does a scammer need?

Having your bank account number and routing number is often enough for a scammer to perform fraudulent activities. While it’s not sufficient to access your bank account, it can allow a scammer to make fraudulent payments, create checks for your account, and make online purchases from retailers that only require bank account information.

What do you do if you suspect an online bank scam?

If you believe a scammer made an unauthorized transfer from your bank account, contact your bank as soon as possible. Let them know it was an unauthorized debit or withdrawal and request that they reverse the transaction and give you your money back.

If you gave a scammer your username and password, you’ll want to create a new, strong password. If you use the same password anywhere else, change it there, too.

If you gave a scammer your Social Security number, you can go to IdentityTheft.gov to see what steps to take, including how to monitor your credit.

Photo credit: iStock/eggeeggjiew

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

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SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

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