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Text message scam hits area

Area residents were recently the target of a text message scam meant to separate bank customers from their hard-earned money.

The scam randomly contacts cell phone customers, via text messaging, regarding accounts with Bank of the San Juans. The message received states, “Discrepancy with your Bank of the San Juans records. Call 1-866-931-8612.” The message has been received by bank customers and non-customers alike.

Several Bank of the San Juans customers, unfortunately, called the number. After calling, they were prompted to enter in bank card information along with other personal information (pin numbers, social security numbers, date of birth, etc.), risking not just a depleted bank account, but also credit card theft and identity theft.

According to Bank of the San Juans officials, the source of the fraud has been determined to come from Eastern Europe and the 1-866 number was shut down early Sunday morning.

Art Chase, Bank of the San Juans president and CEO, said, “I’d say somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30 contacted us,” regarding the scam, but said that no accounts were compromised. “People who called the 866 number, when they got to the part where it asked them for their PIN number realized that something was not right.”

Chase also said that banks do not send out unsolicited requests for information. “The bank will never ask for account information in any electronic form, whether by text message or through e-mail,” he said.

Called “vishing,” the term combines “voice” and phishing because of the scam uses a phone system (usually Voice over Internet Protocol) to send out messages similar to those used in phishing scams. Phishing scam e-mails appear to come from a bank or credit card company. The recipient is warned in the e-mail that there are problems with the account and are directed to click a link, which sends the e-mail recipient to a site cleverly disguised to look exactly like the bank or credit card companies. The recipient is then directed to enter in account information — which goes directly to the thieves.

As with phishing scams, recipients of vishing scam calls should know that a bank or credit card company will never contact a customer asking for account information. If a bank or lender has legitimate concerns with a customer’s account, the bank will ask that customer to come into the bank to discuss those concerns in person. In short, a person should never provide personal account information, personal information or any other information to an unsolicited inquiry.

However, phishing, scammers and thieves have cast a wide net, and a scam that has recently appeared uses the U.S. 2010 Census in another attempt to capture personal information.

The U.S. Census Bureau (UCSB) Web site states that, while the USCB may contact you through e-mail regarding your participation in a survey, the bureau never requests personal information via e-mail. Furthermore, the bureau will never request information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts nor will you be asked for passwords, PIN numbers or other personal information.

Likewise, when appearing at your door, UCSB workers are easily identifiable, and residents are advised to ask to see a badge and other identification (in case the badge has been stolen). UCSB workers carry a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag, will provide a confidentiality form and will present a Census Bureau badge. And while UCSB workers will ask for detailed demographic information (age, race, number in household, etc.), they will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank information or other personal information.

Furthermore, children should never engage a USCB worker in conversation as official UCSB workers are directed not to survey children.

As stated above, USCB workers are easily identifiable and will not ask detailed personal information (such as salary range or other financial information); if someone knocks on your door identifying themselves as a USCB worker but lacks proper credentials, does not carry the UCSB canvas or handheld device and asks for financial or other personal information, refuse to answer their questions and, after they have left, contact local law enforcement. In town, call Det. Scott Maxwell at 264-4151, Ext. 241; in Archuleta County, call Det. George Barter at 264-2131. Provide the detectives with as much physical information as you can (approximate height, weight, hair and eye color, other physical features such as scars or tattoos, what the person was wearing) and make/model and color of the vehicle they were driving.

If you receive a suspicious e-mail representing the USCB, remember these simple rules:

• Do not reply to the e-mail or click on any links contained in the e-mail.

• By no means should you open any attachments included in the e-mail, as they may contain programs meant to infect your computer with malicious code.

• Forward the e-mail or Web site URL to the Census Bureau at itso.fraud.reporting@census.gov then delete the e-mail immediately after forwarding.

Finally, with the recent tragedy in Haiti, the lowest of the low have crept from beneath their rocks preying on the best of human nature and stealing money intended for those who really need it.

According to the FBI’s Web site, numerous spam e-mails are making the rounds, attempting to profit from the disaster. As with the advice listed above, you should never click a link in those e-mails or open any attachments, including attachments purportedly containing photos of the disaster. Furthermore, the FBI says, beware of solicitations on social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or MySpace, especially from individuals claiming to be victims of the earthquake.

Never make a cash donation and never provide bank account information. If you’re donating with a credit or debit card, make sure it is with a legitimate charitable organization — a visit to either www.charitynavigator.org or www.bbb.org/us/charity will provide you with a list of charities that are not only reputable but assure donors that most of their money will be used to assist the victims.

Don’t be afraid to be suspicious — legitimate charities encourage you to know about their work and will be eager to respond to any questions you might have. Ask for the name, phone number and address of the charity and request they put that information in writing.

Recent events have given scammers new territory in which to ply their trade, while relatively new technology has afforded them a new tool set. However, with some common sense, a little homework and a savvy approach to new technologies, potential victims can protect their assets and identity, forcing thieves to phish in other waters or play their vishing games elsewhere.

If you receive (or have received) an unsolicited text message from a source identifying itself as Bank of the San Juans, contact them with any questions at 247-1818.

jim@pagosasun.com