Unexpected funds in your account? Beware

If you notice a direct deposit of $6,000 in your bank account, chances are good it’s a scam and the money isn’t really there. A local man said he learned that the hard way.

POULSBO — If you notice an unexpected deposit of $6,000 in your bank account, chances are good it’s a scam and the money isn’t really there.

Eric Wilson said he learned that the hard way.

Wilson, 24, a 2010 graduate of North Kitsap High School and an electrician apprentice, said he received an email stating that such a deposit had been made electronically into his account at Kitsap Credit Union. His bank indicated such a deposit had been made.

Wilson doesn’t recall the reason given for the deposit; this happened in late January. He only recalls wanting to do the right thing. “I felt the money did not belong to me,” he said, and decided to send the money back.

Using his debit card — using money he thought was in his account — he bought several MoneyGrams and sent them to a Florida address listed on the email.

The next day, he said, he learned he had been scammed. The deposit to his account didn’t clear, meaning the money wasn’t there for him to send back. Fortunately, MoneyGram felt a scam might be underway and stopped some of the payments. But when all was said and done, Wilson was overdrawn more than $3,700.

Four months later, he’s trying to negotiate with the bank, which wants him to repay the money. He believes the bank bears some responsibility. “I did the right thing, and I’m being screwed over,” he said.

Wilson said he and his wife have a 3-month-old baby and the drain on his account is devastating.

A Kitsap Credit Union representative referred all inquiries to its marketing department. The Herald was not able to reach anyone by phone on May 24. One of the phone options on the message system: “To report unauthorized or fraudulent transactions, press 3.”

Merchants Credit Association, the credit agency Wilson is working with on his debt, referred all questions to ACA International, an association of credit and collection professionals. A message was left there May 24.

Poulsbo Police Clerk Charles Foster said he receives a call just about every day from a resident reporting a scam.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do,” he said. “And unfortunately, it happens quite a bit.”

His advice may sound familiar: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“At least once a day I get a call on whatever the scam of the week is,” he said. One caller told him they had won some sort of government grant and were directed to go to a local market and purchase a pre-paid card for a certain amount of money. “I don’t know — maybe it’s some way of transferring money,” Foster said. “Some [suspects] will even say they’ll meet them at the store in an hour. I tell them to say, ‘Let’s meet at the police department.’”

Foster’s advice: If you believe you’ve been a target of a scam, call local police.

Foster said he talked to numerous residents who had received aggressive and threatening phone calls from individuals impersonating IRS agents. According to the IRS, these scam artists threaten police arrest, deportation and license revocation in an attempt to get the potential victim to pay up.

On the agency’s website, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen wrote, “Don’t be fooled by callers pretending to be from the IRS in an attempt to steal your money. We continue to say if you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us.”

According to the IRS, the agency does not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer. If there’s an issue with your taxes, the first contact you’ll have with the IRS will likely occur via mail.

Theresa Kim, a research analyst and writer for MyBankTracker.com, wrote in US News & World Report in January 2015, outlined some common scams — and some tips on how to protect yourself:

Check overpayment fraud, which targets sellers from online auctions and classified advertisement websites. “During a transaction, the fraudulent buyer will pay the seller with a non-cash payment for more than the amount of the item,” Kim wrote in US News & World Report.

“The seller will be asked to immediately deposit the full amount and wire the difference to the buyer. The phony check will eventually bounce and be returned unpaid, which will cost the seller an average of $12.85 in a deposited item returned fee … The worst part? The seller will be fully accountable for the fraudulent check and the wired amount, which cannot be reversed.”

She advises calling the bank where the check was issued or asking your own bank teller to verify its legitimacy.

Charity fraud: “You receive a call asking for donations to the local police department or to military families. After you’re hooked, the crooks elicit information about your bank account or debit card to make the donation over the phone — giving them full access to your checking account,” Kim wrote in US News & World Report.

According to Kim, the safest way to give to a charity is by choosing an organization you are familiar with. “Be cautious about giving your information to individuals who reach out to you first by telephone or email.”

Award scams: “Many situations that seem too good to be true usually are. That’s not to say these things don’t happen – but winning a lottery or sweepstakes without actually participating? It’s probably not very likely,” Kim wrote in US News & World Report.

“In these scams, you are told that you’ve won a foreign lottery. Crooks will send you a very large check to deposit into your personal checking account. You will then be asked to immediately wire a portion of the funds to pay for government taxes and administrative fees.”

How to avoid this scam: “If you didn’t apply for it, you didn’t win it.”