Monday, June 1, 2009

More banks, clients targeted by phone scams

Just an FYI to be on the lookout! Thousands get calls which seek personal info By Tavia D. Green • GANNETT TENNESSEE • June 1, 2009 CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The phone rang at 3:11 a.m. and Melsena Heflin, 69, rolled over to answer it. An automated message said her account at F&M Bank had been frozen because a third party had stolen her identity. The voice told her to push 1 to correct the problem. Out of curiosity, Heflin pushed 1. When the computerized voice then asked for her account number and PIN, she hung up. Heflin said she doesn't bank at F&M but has received dozens of calls from someone claiming to be a representative of the bank. "They keep calling … all hours of the day," Heflin said. "I got fed up when they called at 11 minutes after 3. I'm handicapped and have to take medicine to sleep, and once I get woken up, I can't go back to sleep." Heflin is among thousands of people in Clarksville who have received harassing calls at home, at work and on their cell phones from a computerized system claiming to be a bank and asking for personal information. Recently, clients of First Federal Savings Bank and Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union joined clients of F&M Bank as local targets of the scam commonly known as "phishing." In phishing — as in fishing for confidential information — the criminal gets a person's personal or financial information through deception, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Phishing is usually done electronically, such as through e-mail, but also can be accomplished through phone calls. "It really bothers me," Heflin said. "I know there's a lot of elderly people out there in the same boat I am in and would believe it and go and give them information. I had enough sense not to do it." More banks targeted F&M saw a spike in complaints about the scam in December. Fred Landiss, senior vice president and director of marketing at F&M, said banks all over the state had thousands of fraud reports coming in during the holiday months, but then the numbers started to dwindle. "We had a great feeling we had been educating the customers and public about phishing," Landiss said. "But about two weeks ago, they started back. I think it's a problem we are going to be dealing with for some time." The calls started about two weeks ago for First Federal customers and four weeks ago at Fort Campbell Federal Credit Union. Stewart Ramsey, president and CEO at the credit union, said the calls have died down since. "We've been very fortunate. We had less than five members that released their information," Ramsey said. "We immediately shut their cards down and reissued them a new card. … We caught it quick enough that there was nothing happening." Earl Bradley, First Federal CEO, said its customers have been safe as well. "Many of us are a part of a network, where we report those types of crimes and can put everyone on alert very quickly." The problem spans the region and nation. "It would appear these scams are going on and there are sophisticated rings from out of town and overseas randomly calling customers," Bradley said. Preventing theft"It is a growing issue and all customers and citizens need to beware of giving out information over the telephone or on the Internet. … A legitimate bank will never ask for information over the telephone. … They are preying on the unwary, uninformed customer they catch at a hard time." "These scam artists make it sound realistic. … They use a scare tactic, and the banks are trying to educate the consumer that we never ask for this information over the telephone," Bradley said. Most banks will call to verify transactions on credit cards that appear to be irregular. When a bank representative calls to verify a transaction, he may ask security questions but won't ask for account numbers or a PIN. If a customer has questions, the best thing to do is hang up and call the phone number on the back of the credit or debit card, or call the local bank, said Frank Wallace, chief information officer at First Federal. Any customer who gives out information accidentally should contact the bank immediately to shut down the card. Banks have banded together to look for solutions and have been trying to spread the word about the scam through Web sites and mass mailings. "The better we can inform the public, the more secure they will feel," Wallace said.

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