Scam Alert – Beware This Phone Scam

There is a phone scam that is going around the country right now. My mother received this call earlier this week. Fortunately, she didn’t fall for the scam, but it did upset her greatly. Be aware of this scam, and explain it to any older folks you know since the scammers may especially be targeting the elderly.

The call will go something like this:

phone rings

You: Hello?

Caller: May I speak to <your name>?

You: Speaking.

Caller: I am Jane Doe with your bank – the fraud and identity theft department.  There has been some suspicious activity on your account. Can you confirm that you’ve authorized a $1,000 transaction on your account within the last 24 hours?

You: (surprised and worried) No. Absolutely not. I haven’t made any such transaction.

Caller: Don’t worry. We caught this in time. I’ll cancel the transaction and refund the money back into your account immediately.

You: (very relieved) Thank you!

Caller: Are you still in possession of your card? Has it been lost or stolen recently? 

You: No. I still have my card.

Caller: Good. But we have to cancel that card and issue you a new one. You should get your new card within three business days.

You (thinking what a pain it will be to be without your card for 3 days): Okay.

Caller: We just need you to confirm your mailing address, and account number of the deactivated card we are replacing. 

You: Sure. My address is ————. But I don’t want to give the card number over the phone.

Caller: Never give the number for an activated card over the phone. However, your card has now been deactivated, and cannot be used to access your account. It is safe to give us the number of a deactivated card. We need the number to make sure your new card is tied into the correct account. Otherwise, it will delay the issuing of a new card by 3 to 4 weeks.

You (Thinking what a hassle it would be to have to wait that long for a new card): Oh. Okay. The number is xxx-xxx-xxxxxxx. The expiration date is xx/xx.

Caller: Thank you. You’ll have your new card within three days. Good bye.

The scammer then uses the card number you just gave them to order lots of fun and wonderful stuff over the Internet. 

Here’s why this scam often works: Banks do have fraud departments that will call you to confirm certain transactions that seem suspicious. That is true. Getting a phone call from your bank about a $1,000 transaction you didn’t authorize will rattle most people, who will immediately jump to “No. Absolutely not. I haven’t made any such transaction,” thereby missing the first clue that this particular call is a scam. 

Without looking back at what you just read, did you catch the first clue? Banks are extremely professional in their contacts with the public, and will never so casually identify themselves as being “with your bank – the fraud and identity theft department.” They will give you not only their full name, but the bank’s name as well.  A legitimate call would go like: “I am Jane Doe with Bank of America – the fraud and identity theft department.” Or Wells Fargo. Or whatever bank they are representing.

The scammer probably doesn’t know which bank you are actually with, therefore will use generic terms like “your bank” or “the bank.” They add the “fraud and identity theft department” both to make themselves sound more professional and to start the process of rattling the person they are scamming. Many people will be so rattled by the thought of losing $1,000 that they will rush headlong into denying the transaction and miss that the caller didn’t actually identify which bank.

The second clue was when the caller asked for the account number. Banks and other financial institutions will not ask for account numbers, card numbers, passwords, PIN numbers, security codes, or other similar information over the phone. It doesn’t matter if it is a deactivated card or account. They will not ask. 

A couple of years ago, I did receive a legitimate call from the fraud department of my credit union. Someone (a waitress at my favorite Chinese restaurant, as it turned out), did steal my card number and made a bunch of purchases with it. After confirming I did not make the purchases, they did immediately cancel the card. But they never asked for any account numbers or other information. I had to go to my local branch in person and fill out paperwork. In fact, I had to sign a affidavit stating that I didn’t authorize the transactions in order to get the money returned to my account (which was returned in full the next day).

These scammers may be targeting elderly people with this particular scam (and others) because elderly folks are often more trusting, easier to rattle or confuse, and are less familiar with how these things work.