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January 20, 2015


Phone Scams: Still Calling Around

With 2014 filled with news about data breaches and faster payments and new technologies trying to jumpstart various payment applications, it was easy to forget about that old-fashioned device, the telephone, and the role it can play in fraud. (It's been almost a year since I wrote the post "Phone Fraud: Now It's Personal!" about fraud schemes involving telephones.)

Pindrop Security recently released some research on the most frequent consumer phone scams, reminding us of how criminals can use a low-tech device combined with high-tech research tools to scam millions of consumers out of tens of millions of dollars each year.

We can generally place the underlying tactics of the scams into one of four categories:

  • Scare tactics. Often, the caller poses as a governmental agency official such as an IRS agent or law enforcement officer and advises the victim they have an outstanding debt or arrest warrant. The caller tells the victim to send in a certain amount of money immediately to cover the debt or pay a fine—or be arrested, have a lien placed against the home, or face other serious actions. The criminal's goal is to obtain funds directly from the victim.
  • Attractive offers. In this type of scam, the caller generally wants the victim's payment card or bank account number—although, as we outlined in an earlier post on advance fee scams, the caller may also be after direct payments. The offer may be for anything from a free vacation to a government grant, or from a reduction in the victim's mortgage or credit card interest rate. In any case, the caller insists the victim pay a handling fee. Sometimes, the caller asks questions about the victim's banking accounts to make sure the victim "qualifies" for the special offer. With the information obtained, the fraudsters generate payment transactions or use that information for future identity theft efforts.
  • High-pressure techniques. Most scams involve high-pressure techniques; the criminals want to create a sense of urgency to get the victim to act quickly, without thinking. A common scenario is when the caller tells the victim that his or her bank account or payment card has been frozen because of suspicious activity and then urges the victim to provide sensitive account information to restore the account to normal status. The caller can then use the information the victim has provided to initiate fraudulent transactions or identity theft.
  • Information-gathering. A criminal may call to get "additional" information about a customer to go into an identity profile that the criminal can use later in committing an identity theft crime. Often the criminal has already gathered some information about the targeted victim through social media or public records to weave into a cover story about why they are requesting the information to make the story more believable.

Since any of us can be a target of such calls, we must educate ourselves—and the public and our colleagues—about these scams constantly so we can all be on the alert and safeguard our accounts and personal information.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed


January 20, 2015 in consumer fraud , identity theft , phone fraud | Permalink

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