The last four digits of my cell phone is a number which is less than 100 (i.e. 00XX). As a result, that puts me first in line for text message scams and spam.
Why? Because spammers will typically blanket the phone numbers in a 10,000 number block, from lowest to highest. For example, their program might be configured to cover every number between 949-555-0000 and 949-555-9999. Sometimes they get shut down before they’re able to reach the upper end of that spectrum, but those with the lower numbers will still have been bombarded with the texts… lucky me.
It’s a numbers game…
Over the past couple of years, the frequency of fake text messages I have received related to credit cards and bank accounts has skyrocketed. It’s not uncommon for me to receive phony texts such as:
“This is a message from the Chase Bank security department. Please confirm you are in possession of your card by texting back the full account number.”
Let’s say this message was successfully sent to 10,000 cell phone numbers. Being that Chase is such a large bank, obviously there will be hundreds (if not thousands) of people among those who are indeed Chase bank and/or credit card accountholders.
Most of them will recognize that message as a scam to harvest credit/debit card numbers. However, there may be a few who think the message is actually legit. Someone may think “I have a Chase account so this must be legit.” When in reality, it’s just a numbers game… the scammers know that simply by chance, X% of recipients will be customers of a given bank.
Real vs. fake?
To further complicate matters, there may be a slight chance your credit card company truly is contacting you by text message. I received this message from Citibank a while back:
I assumed this must be a scam, but surprisingly it turned out to be legit. However I didn’t verify its legitimacy by calling the number in the text message…
- If you receive a text claiming to be from a bank and you think it might be legit, do NOT call the number in the text (there’s no way to know who owns it). Only call the customer service phone number printed on the back of your credit card.
- When you call the number printed on the back of your card, ask to be transferred to the fraud department (or whatever department was mentioned in the text). They should be able to tell you whether or not the text you received was legit. In the above incident, one of the first things out of the Citi rep’s mouth was something along the lines of “Are you calling in regards to the fraud alert on your account?” They should know right away whether it’s real or not.
- Always have the mindset this is fake until proven real because the vast majority of the time, messages like this are just credit card scams to collect your account numbers.
The more gutsy approach
Of course, bogus texts aren’t the only credit card scams by phone. If the scammer is real gutsy, he or she may try calling you directly with more or less the same hook, line, and sinker. Something like “Hello this is Doug from Bank of America Security, we have a problem with your account…” In a convincing and seemingly authentic manner, they will try and trick you into divulging your account data, Social Security number, or other personal information.
Whenever you receive a call from someone purporting to be from your bank, its unsafe to participate in the conversation because there’s no way to know who’s calling you. When this happens, tell the person on the other line:
“For security purposes, I will call you back using the official customer service phone number on the back of my card. What extension should I use to reach your department?”
Be careful, because the conman may try to give you what seems to be a plausible excuse such as “there is no direct extension to reach me, so that won’t work.” Well that may be true, but that still is not an excuse to stay on the line.
Your bank or credit card company might not have an extension to transfer you back to the exact same person, but rest assured, if you call the general customer service number they will be able to connect you with the appropriate department handling whatever issue is at hand.
A bit of a hassle? Maybe. But it’s better to be safe than be a victim of identity theft.