Don’t be too sure of the authenticity of phone calls or text messages that claim to be from your financial institution, warning that there’s a problem with your account, debit card or credit card.
This old scam is back, with a new wave of bogus bank alerts.
In the past week, according to news reports, thousands of people have been targeted in at least five states — Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Missouri. But there could be many more.
The scam works like this:
An automated message or a live caller informs you that a bank account, ATM card or credit card has been frozen or closed — “fraudulent activity” is a common claim — and that you need to take quick action to resolve the problem.
Often, you’re instructed to call a supposed “fraud hotline,” where a recorded voice prompts you to provide sensitive data such as account or PIN numbers. Or live callers may ask for such information.
To help make this con convincing, your Caller ID screen may reassuringly display the name and number of your bank — easily done with “spoofing” software or Internet-based telephone services.
It’s all a form of “phishing,” a wide range of ruses that try to trick you into disclosing personal information to enable identity theft. When made by telephone, it’s known as “vishing” — short for “voice phishing.” When made by text message, it’s “smishing” — named after the communications protocol called SMS (short message service), which sends text messages.
The bottom line: Don’t believe it.
In recent years, scammers behind this ruse have increasingly “gone local” — targeting residents in specific area codes or even with certain telephone prefix numbers. Your Caller ID appears to show a local number and bank name, so you’re more likely to believe the call is real.
In reality, it’s unlikely that banks would send automated calls or texts to customers warning about a personal problem. And they certainly already have your account information.
So if you get such a message, just hang up. And don’t reply to text messages. If you’re worried there’s really a problem, look up the bank’s number yourself and call to verify. Do not rely on Caller ID numbers.
If you already fell for this ruse, immediately notify your bank to change your account number. Within the next two to six weeks, check your credit report for free at Annualcreditreport.com to determine if fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.