3 Sneaky Schemes That Scammers 'Bank' On


Phone calls claim there's a problem with your bank account or credit or debit card. Some allege you qualify for a lower-interest-rate credit card because you've been such a good customer. And the newest trick: telling businesses that their card-swiping machines aren't working right and credit card transactions must be made by phone.

But it's scammers delivering such unexpected news - not legitimate financial institutions they profess to represent, which most recently include Bank of America, Barclays, and scores of community banks and credit unions.

No matter the claim or alleged affiliation, these cons aim to get details about your financial accounts or personal information for likely identity theft.

Although they've been occurring for years, there's been a recent resurgence throughout the U.S. in phone calls and text messages from fraudsters claiming to be from banks, credit unions and credit card companies. When calling your landline or cellphone, a con artist is  "vishing" - which refers to voice phishing, after fake emails that "phish" for sensitive information. If these fake alerts come as a cellphone text message, it's called smishing, derived from the short message service (SMS) technology that enables texting.

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The most common ruse, carried out via prerecorded messages as well as live calls, is claiming your credit card has been frozen because of fraudulent activity. You're asked to provide (orally or via keypad punching) your account number, expiration date and security code.

Don't do it! This gives scammers the numbers they need - in correct order, to boot - to craft a virtual credit card they can immediately use to make fraudulent online and other card-not-present transactions on your dime. And don't fall for phony telephone and text claims that your Social Security number is required to "reactivate" your account.

In reality, banks won't cold-call you, asking for such information. If there is a real problem, expect them to provide personal data, starting with addressing you by name and saying something like, "We suspect fraudulent activity in your credit card account ending with XXXX."

Also, hang up on second-string bank impostor vishing, smishing or email messages that claim there are problems with your checking or savings account, or a debit card in which your PIN is requested. If your name or other personal details aren't mentioned, it's surely a scam. When in doubt, call your account providers yourself, using the number on bank statements or on the back of your card. Never rely on phone numbers provided in unsolicited correspondence.

These tried-and-true bank impostor schemes have some new company:

* Get a lower-rate credit card. So-called Rachel Calls still dominate. Those robocalls claim that, with no name mentioned, "you" can lower your rate on an existing card with an unnamed company - for an upfront fee and possible ID theft. The latest spin is the same promise, but this time allegedly from your own or another recognizable bank.

The gotcha is in requests for "qualifying" information you shouldn't give by phone or email - including income, existing financial accounts and personal details that could be used for ID theft. A better response: Hang up, revealing nothing.

If you want a lower-interest-rate account, ask your existing plastic providers - for free and based on readily available information about your payment history, balances and card usage.

* Swipe-machine snafus. In this clever new con, bank impostor scammers call business owners and claim that their credit-card-reading devices are on the fritz and that they should make payments via a provided phone number.

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Upon checkout or after a restaurant meal, customers are asked to provide account details - including online log-in info and security-question answers - directly to the fraudsters at those phony numbers, or employees collect these details as unsuspecting middlemen for the scammers.

Although there's no indication this scam is occurring in the U.S., it's red-hot in the United Kingdom and may soon cross the pond. If it does and you're told of supposed payment-processing glitches, verify claims with a quick call to your plastic provider, using the number on the back of your card, before providing any account details.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network . You'll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.


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