Fraud 101: What is fraud?

Identity theft, malware, phishing, SMSing, vishing: we’re constantly told to look out for these things. But what do these terms really mean, and how can you protect yourself? We'll break it down for you—and take some of the fear out of fraud.

Defining fraud

So what is fraud and why's it such a big concern? Christopher Blackmore, Fraud Risk Management Expert for TD Bank, says, “Fraud is essentially how the bad guys take pieces of information and put them all together like a puzzle to steal our funds or take our identity.” Fraudsters usually rely on an online presence for anonymity, and use methods designed to be difficult to spot and easy to fall for.

They also use specific events and time periods to their advantage. For example, vacation scams are popular during the summer and fake tickets tend to circulate around the Super Bowl.

It can be hard to get a scammer to stop once they’ve started taking action—and draining your funds. The info that’s compromised may even be used for other types of fraud down the line, creating a spiral effect that can have lasting consequences. Dealing with fraud can often include spending hours talking to your bank, freezing accounts, filling out paperwork and contacting the proper authorities.

But you can help protect yourself. While fraud is a real risk in everyday life, being aware of the different types can help you stay on the lookout and stay safe.

Identifying fraud types

Scammers often use emails, text messages and phone calls to try to steal information, but there are many specific signs you can learn to look out for. Let’s explore the common types.

Identity theft

One of the most prevalent types of fraud often causing the most damage is identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it for financial gain. From hacking into free Wi-Fi to stealing your mail or phone, scammers often get creative, which means you have to be especially careful. “If they gain access to your phone, they have everything,” says Charlie McClafferty, Senior Manager in TD’s Fraud Risk Management Department. Scammers also commonly get personal information through data breaches from other sources, which can be especially frustrating since this is out of your control.

“Identity theft works in pieces. Scammers will try to get your account number, your Social Security number and other important information,” says Blackmore. Then they can create fake IDs and withdraw your funds. In some cases, fraudsters even create new personas, essentially becoming “fake people.” With this type of identify fraud, scammers create a person mostly from scratch, but also use some specific stolen information from real people. It can take years to build up this scam.

Getting scammed can be scary, but there are ways to stay protected—and keep identity thieves from succeeding. For starters, check your credit history. If you notice any accounts or credit lines you didn’t open, you’ll want to freeze your accounts and contact the credit bureaus. Be sure to visit if you think your identity has been stolen. To stay safe, you should also monitor your mail, set up alerts from your bank and other important sources, secure your computers and mobile devices, and remember to be cautious online. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can also help you learn more about identity theft.

Phishing, vishing and SMShing

It may sound like your favorite pastime, but phishing isn’t a relaxing day on the lake. Unfortunately, this type of fraud continues to grow. McClafferty explains, “Phishing is when a scammer sends out an email pretending to be somebody reliable.” Vishing (phone scams) and SMShing (texting scams) are two common types of phishing. In all its forms, scammers who use this tactic urge you to act quickly so they can take your money.

Scams targeting the elderly

Blackmore says while anyone can be a victim of a scam, the elderly are more vulnerable to fraud attempts as they’re more inclined to share personal information. In many cases, scammers will claim a friend or relative is in trouble and urge the elderly target to act right away.

Fraudsters also commonly pose as insurance professionals asking for information or telemarketers selling something over the phone. Being less tech-savvy also makes the elderly a target for internet fraud, such as pop-up viruses and other scams. Helping your loved ones stay educated and ensuring they don’t share information with strangers can help lower the success of these attempts. Learn more about scams targeting the elderly population from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Account takeovers

Often considered a form of identity theft, an account takeover occurs when a scammer steals either a business’s or an individual’s account information, usually to take funds. While this often occurs with bank accounts and other financial sources, scammers can also take over e-mail addresses, social media profiles and more. They can get access to your information in a variety of ways that include stealing mail, online hacking, phishing and malware.

Credit card fraud

Typically considered a type of financial account takeover, credit card fraud happens when a criminal hacks your account or steals your information in order to rack up charges on your card. However, credit card fraud can also happen if you lose your physical card, have it stolen, or have your card skimmed.

Skimming happens when information-stealing devices are installed on card machines at places like ATMs and gas stations. Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is a type of skimming in which scammers use scanning devices to steal info through the chip on your card. This is a less common and effective method, but if you’re still concerned, there are wallets you can buy that help block these types of attempts.

If you think you’ve been a victim of credit card fraud, stay calm. To start, you should lock your credit cards and put a hold on your accounts. Learn more about what other steps you should take to report fraud and identity theft.

Other schemes to watch out for

As fraud attempts continue to grow, it’s important to watch out for some other forms that are out there:

  • Small business fraud: Small businesses are susceptible to all kinds of fraud due to their size and lack of protection. Phishing, loan fraud and payroll fraud are common. Check out the Small Business Administration’s site (SBA) to learn more about preventing and reporting these scams.
  • Wire fraud: This is a term specific to fraud that relies on electronic communication to solicit money. While we're all used to sending friends and family money through various platforms and services, McClafferty reminds us to make sure you’re only doing this with people you know. Wire fraud also encompasses other types of scams such as phishing, romance and investment fraud.
  • Investment fraud: Some scammers will try to trick you into investing money. “They’ll target businesses and people that are looking to get rich quick, often from social media,” says Blackmore. These scams can be complex. “Sometimes they’ll make you the person to recruit other people to come into the investment scam,” Blackmore adds.
  • Malware: Malware (a.k.a. malicious software) is any program designed to intentionally harm your computer or steal info. Before you click “Yes” on that next computer update or file download, be sure it’s coming from a legitimate source.


By learning about fraud basics, you’re already on your way to staying safe. Just know, preventing fraud is a team effort and your bank is there to help. Visit our Security Center to learn what TD Bank is doing to help protect you and how you can further protect yourself.

How to report fraud and identity theft to TD Bank

If you think your TD accounts or cards have been compromised, visit our Security Center to learn how to report the fraud and contact us for help right away.

  • Lock your credit and debit cards
  • Report a lost or stolen card:
    • TD Bank ATM or Visa® Debit Card: 1-888-751-9000
    • TD Bank Visa® Credit Card: 1-888-561-8861
  • Report identity theft or a phishing attempt: 1-800-893-8554
  • Forward suspicious emails to:
  • Contact your local police department or call The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): 1-877-382-4357
  • Report fraud to the credit bureaus:

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This article is based on information available in August of 2022 and is subject to change. It is provided as a convenience and for general information purposes only. Our content is not intended to provide legal, tax, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular TD Bank or third party product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional. Links to third-party sites do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by TD Bank of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual. TD Bank bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of the external site or for that of subsequent links. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. See our website Terms of Use for more information.