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How to Recognize a Retail Imposter Scam

December 17, 2021

Woman with phone

…and avoid being duped

Have you ever received a suspicious email, text, or phone call with someone saying there was a problem with your online order and they need to refund you? You're not alone. This type of retail business imposter scam was America's #1 phone scam in 2021 and cost consumers $1.6 billion.

Retail imposter scams use a number of techniques to gain your trust and steal your money. They typically begin with a simple phone call, email, or text message with the scammer imitating a customer service person from a well-known company. The goal is to get remote access to your phone or computer after alerting you to “fraudulent behavior” on your account, ostensibly to assist with a refund.

If successful, the scammers convince you to divulge your sensitive personal information so they can gain access to your bank account and steal the money through online transfers or make bogus transactions in your name.

Here's what you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Check to see who’s contacting you. You can find any major firm or retailer’s support number with a fast Google search. Hang up and call the support line directly if the number that texted or called you doesn’t match. Check the sender’s email address. Is it coming from the company that is supposed to be contacting you? If it isn’t, classify it as spam and file a complaint against the sender.
  2. Look at the links. Hover over or press and hold a link to see it without having to click or download anything. Delete the email, block the call, or flag the text if it’s unknown or suspicious.
  3. Consider the information they’re requesting. Your Social Security number would never be required by a retailer to authenticate your transaction. If the caller asks for personal information, hang up and report the incident to the retailer as well as the Federal Trade Commission.

The most important thing to remember is that online retailers already have everything they need to reverse a charge and issue a refund if there is a legitimate reason to do so. They will never contact you and ask you for personal information or access to your bank account—under any circumstances.

If you have questions or think you may have been a victim of fraud, please report it to RCU Fraud Department at 1 (800) 479-7928 or contact us online.