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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, June 21, 2010
Scammers have your phone number—and may soon be calling with alarming but bogus news. Pretending to be from your bank or credit union, they claim that your checking or savings account, ATM card or credit card has been closed or frozen because of fraudulent activity, and your quick action is needed to resolve the problem.
The call may come from a live human being who then asks for personal information such as account numbers and PINs to verify your identity. Or you may get a recorded call or text message telling you to call a supposed fraud hotline, where a recorded voice prompts you to provide the personal data.
That’s the purpose, of course—to get you to give away information useful in stealing your money or identity.
So if you get such a call or text, don’t believe it. Banks, credit unions and credit card issuers never alert customers of compromised accounts via text message.
And if you get a call, give no information to the caller and don’t dial any provided call-back number. Instead, look up your bank’s phone number yourself and dial it to ask whether the claim is legitimate.
Don’t feel reassured if your caller ID screen shows your bank’s name and number when one of these calls comes in. The bilkers can use spoofing software or Internet phone technology to display whatever they want on your screen.
If you’ve already fallen for this ruse, immediately contact your bank and credit card providers to change account numbers. Then check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com to determine whether fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
The scam has been on the upsurge in recent months, after a long and successful run some years ago. Since late March, messages purporting to be from financial institutions in at least 11 states have been reported, according to one banking security website.
Care to know the lingo associated with this ruse? If the fake alert goes to your landline or cellphone, it’s called “vishing”—for voice phishing, after fake e-mails that “phish” for account and other personal information. If the contact comes as a cellphone text message, it’s called “smishing,” derived from the short message service (SMS) technology that enables texting.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.
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