COLUMBIA — Bank customers should be on the lookout for a new identity theft scheme called “text-phishing.”
Some Columbia e-mail users may already be familiar with “phishing,” the fraudulent gathering of bank information by deceiving customers into entering personal information into a false Web site.
What to look for: E-mails or text messages requesting personal bank information to “unlock” or “verify” an account. If you have this e-mail: Send a copy of the e-mail or text message to your bank. Then delete it. If you may have given out your information: Call your bank immediately so they can monitor your account for any fraudulent activity. Then call the police.
Capt. Zim Schwartze of the Columbia Police Department said several banks have recently been hit by the “phish text.”
The fraudulent text messages function much in the same way as the e-mail phishing scams.
One recent texting scam targets Boone County National Bank and its holding company Central Bank. The text directs customers to a fraudulent replica of the bank’s official site.
Both e-mail and text scams deceive customers by sending a fake notification that the customer’s account has been locked. The message then directs the user to “unlock” his or her account by clicking on a link and inputting personal banking information. The only difference with text-phishes is that recipients must manually input the link for the fake Web site.
Central Bank has posted copies of the phishing e-mails on its Web site to help identify the fraudulent messages and has advised customers to immediately delete the e-mails.
Boone County National Bank has also put up a warning on its Web site notifying customers of the scam and directing them to the American Bankers Association consumer guidelines for fraud detection.
Mary Wilkerson, vice-president of marketing at Boone County National Bank, said the bank is not aware of any customers who have been taken advantage of by the e-mail scam and attributes this to the e-mails being addressed to Central Bank customers and not to BCNB customers.
Wilkerson said the e-mail addresses have not come from a breach at the bank. Instead, the e-mails are sent out randomly to a large number of customers in an area to illegally gain information.
“It’s totally random,” she said. “There’s no connection between the information on our mainframe and the information used in the scam.”
Schwartze said customers who receive the e-mail or text messages are not in any danger as long as they do not respond.
Customers should be wary of any e-mails or text messages that ask for personal information, Schwartze said.
Wilkerson stressed that the bank will never contact its customers via e-mail or text message to verify personal information.
“We know your information,” she said. “We are not going to send you an unsolicited information request.”
She said that though the e-mails and text messages may not appear to be authentic, their threatening tone can make customers feel compelled to input their information.
“The reason they give it that tone is to make people get panicky and make bad decisions,” she said.
When phishing scams come to the attention of bank personnel, the bank sends the e-mails and text messages to an internal department that works with the FBI to shut down the fraudulent Web sites and messaging scams.
In order to do this, Wilkerson advises customers who receive the fraudulent e-mails to send them to the bank.
“We would love them to forward them to us so we can track down where they are coming from,” she said. “Same with a text message. Give us the phone number.”
Both Wilkerson and Schwartze said that anyone who suspects they have been a victim of fraud should notify their bank immediately and, as in all fraud cases, should contact the police department so the incident can be investigated. However, since many of the scams originate from outside the United States, Schwartze said there’s not a lot the police can do.
Wilkerson stressed the best way to keep from falling victim to the scam is to always be suspicious of any information inquiries and, when in doubt, call the bank to verify the authenticity of the inquiry.
When Wilkerson came to the bank 15 years ago, she said she saw this same scam in letter form.
“It’s the same old scam, just new technology,” she said.