Prepare to Care: A Resource Guide for Families was developed by AARP to help make the job more manageable. Here’s how to obtain a free copy.
by Sid Kirchheimer, March 30, 2009
Thanks to a con that has spread like wildfire in recent months, there’s new concern for anyone with a bank account and a telephone number.
The new trickery is called “smishing.” It’s a cousin of “phishing,” an attempt to get personal information via e-mails or other electronic communication. “Smishing” relies on wireless phones for identity theft by using a communications protocol called SMS (short message service), which sends text messages.
Across the country, people have been getting cellphone text messages purporting to be from their banks or credits unions—saying that their ATM cards, credit cards or bank accounts have been closed or frozen. The bogus messages then instruct recipients to call a toll-free number to settle the problem.
Similar prerecorded messages are also sent to traditional telephone “land lines.”
These phony messages purport to be from one of several hundreds banks and are sent to people across the country. When calling the suggested phone number, respondents are instructed—again, usually by prerecorded prompts—to provide their account numbers and other personal information, paving the way for identity theft.
“We had instances where customers fell for it,” says Doug Johnson, senior policy analyst for the American Bankers Association. “I don’t have a number on how many victims, but this scam is prevalent.”
Do not respond if you get a text message or phone call allegedly sent by your bank. Scammers use programs that allow them to send text and prerecorded messages to random phone numbers.
Do not rely on your caller ID. Scammers can use “spoofing” software or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephone numbers to falsely publish the name and phone number of your bank on your caller ID, making these calls appear to be authentic. Instead, telephone your bank or credit card issuer directly—look up the number yourself—if you are worried about your accounts.
If you detect any suspicious activity on any of your accounts, immediately contact your bank or credit card issuer. Then, several weeks later, check your credit history, the only website that under federal law provides all citizens with three free credit reports a year (although credit scores cost extra).
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Get tips and resources to protect yourself from fraud and see the latest scam alerts in your state.
Members save 15% on in-store purchases of frozen yogurt, treats and apparel.
Exclusive program for members from The Hartford.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at