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It can take many forms: a notification that you won a social media contest, a desperate plea from someone who “lost” their debit card, or a text offering you a cut of a shady deal. It's a scam called card cracking, and it has cost banks about $11.6 million in stolen money as of May 2015. If you're a college student, single parent or newly enlisted servicemember, you're more likely to be a target of card cracking.

How It Works

A con artist offers you a sum of money under the guise of a prize or as a "thank you" for helping them when they claim to be locked out of their own account. The scammer says they need your account information, PIN or other financial institution credentials in order to deposit checks into your account. However, the checks are fraudulent. The funds from the checks are cashed out immediately before your financial institution can find out they're fakes. To make matters worse, the scammers may drain your legitimate funds, too.

Victim and Accomplice

In more recent cases, scammers may actually advertise the fact that they're card cracking. They lure people in with the promise that it's a great way to pay off debts, turning the victim into an accomplice. Here is how the scenario can work.

The scammer contacts you through a text. They offer an easy way to make some money and claim the only victim will be your financial institution. All you need to do is give them your debit card number and PIN so they can make a few check deposits. The con artist informs you that they'll be withdrawing this money immediately, but you'll get your cut a different way. Simply report the cash as stolen, and you'll be reimbursed. It sounds like a win-win until you realize that the criminal can take far more than what they deposited. And, there is no guarantee that your financial institution will reimburse any of it. In fact, financial institutions have begun cracking down on these schemes and are likely to reject your request for reimbursement since you willingly gave your information to a stranger.

With your money gone, your credit rating and ability to get loans will be negatively affected. In addition, you could be prosecuted as an accomplice for participation in the crime.

The Social Connection

The sources of many cracking schemes are Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The personal information accessible on these sites allows criminals to tailor the scam to the victim. For example, if it appears you're in college, the scammers may create a fake scholarship offer for you. Additionally, social media makes it easy to spread the word on the deceitful offers.

Defend Your Deposits

Protect your financial future and never give anyone your debit or credit card numbers, PIN or online banking credentials. Also, steer clear of fast-cash opportunities. You could lose your money, ruin your good credit and even face possible jail time. Remember—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Our experts at Navy Federal can confirm the validity of any suspicious financial offers you receive and help you with options if you find yourself in need of a short-term or other personal loan.

This article is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.