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Q&A with a Fraud Fighter

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By: Bryan Watkinson
AVP of Risk Operations

December 19, 2023

As we enter the heart of the holiday season, a time when online activity significantly increases, it's important to be aware of the heightened risk of scams and fraudulent activity. Fraud continues to rise, and with the increasing popularity of social media and evolution of artificial intelligence, consumers need to ensure their personal information and data is protected now more than ever. According to the FTC 1, consumers lost $8.8 billion to fraud in 2022, which was up 30% from the year before. 

At Affinity, we want you to spend the holidays enjoying time with your friends and family, and not worrying about becoming a victim to fraud or a financial scam. Here are some tips from our Assistant Vice President of Risk Operations, Bryan Watkinson:

Could you explain the most common types of scams and fraud that consumers face? Why are they particularly prevalent at this time of year?

Phishing scams and 'Money Mule' activities are at unprecedented levels. We're seeing a surge in text message, email, phone, and voice scam attempts, and our team anticipates that this trend will continue. There's also been a notable increase in both complicit and non-complicit mule attempts to move money, and the profiles of those involved have evolved. Unfortunately, many individuals get entangled in scams without realizing their role in the fraud process. This is especially common in romance scams and business email compromise cases. The best defense against these situations is to take your time, be vigilant, and always ask questions.

What proactive steps can consumers take to protect themselves from these scams? Are there specific online behaviors or practices they should adopt or avoid?

Consumers should exercise caution before sharing their money or personal information, which, to fraudsters, is as valuable as cash. It's important to regularly monitor your credit score and choose an identity theft monitoring service that fits your needs. Additionally, be wary of offers that seem 'too good to be true' as they often are.

How does Affinity help its members in recognizing and protecting themselves against potential scams? Can you provide examples of tools or resources that the credit union offers?

The various teams at Affinity have been instrumental in helping our members recognize and protect themselves against scams. We offer a robust self-service security center 2 that provides up-to-date resources for member education. Our 'Fraud Fridays' initiative on social media has been very popular across multiple channels. Additionally, our rapid deployment of text and voice messages has greatly assisted in keeping our members informed and alert.

If a member suspects they've been a victim of fraud or a scam, what immediate actions should they take? How does Affinity support them through this process?

If a member suspects they're a victim of fraud or a scam, they should immediately contact our call center or visit their local branch. We have an established internal process designed to halt ongoing fraudulent activities and initiate remediation efforts where possible. Additionally, we provide access to an external vendor specializing in identity theft situations, available free of charge to our members.

How can fraud impact financial wellbeing when it does occur? How can taking proactive measures to protect against fraud also improve financial wellbeing?

Fraud events can significantly impact financial wellbeing, sometimes with serious consequences. It's crucial to take your time, double-check wire instructions, and always verify their accuracy by calling the sender. In today's digital era, asking questions is essential. Remember, you work hard for your money, so think carefully before parting with it. Proactive measures not only prevent fraud but also contribute to maintaining and enhancing your financial wellbeing.

Looking ahead, what emerging threats in fraud and scams do you see on the horizon, and how is Affinity preparing to combat these new challenges?

In light of the current global conflicts and domestic financial uncertainties, I believe Affinity is well-prepared due to our prior investments in technology, training, and team development. Our focus remains on being proactive, reactive, and offensive in our approach to member protection. We regularly host monthly webinars on identity theft and continue extensive outreach across all channels to promote education and awareness. The strong partnership and shared vision between our risk operations, marketing, and brand teams play a crucial role in protecting and educating our members against emerging threats in fraud and scams.

This information is for informational purposes only, is intended to provide general guidance, and does not constitute legal, tax, or financial advice. Each person's circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. You should seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, and/or legal counsel to discuss your specific needs before making any financial or other commitments regarding the matters related to your condition.

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