I was working on my computer this afternoon when my cell phone rang. According to the caller ID, it was ReallyBigBank calling (I’m concealing the name of the bank for security reasons). A man came on the line and identified himself as a Fraud Department employee at ReallyBigBank. He said he was calling me about a potential fraud alert related to a new account application in my name.
For what it is worth, I do not currently have an account at ReallyBigBank, but I know the whole fraud routine after years working as a financial advisor and protecting my clients against cyberfraud. I know fraudsters can easily “spoof” numbers and type fake company names and phone numbers into the Caller ID system. Already suspicious about this phone call, I asked the guy on the phone what was supposedly the problem. He started bristling right off the bat at my use of the word ‘supposedly.’ He responded that he was calling from the Fraud Department at ReallyBigBank about a new account application and repeated his phone number.
“Well, what about this supposed new account application?” I asked him. “Tell me about it.”
That seemed to offend him once again. He really did not like me using the word ‘supposed’ and aggressively advised me to call his bank and toll-free phone number for more details. Not sure if he hung up on me or I hung up on him, but we did not part on friendly terms.
Calls like this happen every day. So what’s the point of sharing this story, and what did I learn – and better yet, what can you learn – about fraud? Here’s my takeaways:
This was most definitely a phishing call. You all know abut phishing, right? And it was most probably a Caller ID number spoofing call. ReallyBigBank’s name and number were prominently displayed on my Caller ID, but undoubtedly because they were typed in there by the fraudster himself. I know that, you probably know that, but nevertheless, when the Caller ID appears on your phone it looks “real” and makes you want to believe for a minute or two that it really is ReallyBigBank calling. It’s not. It’s human nature to want to believe, but don’t. They really are lying to you.
Don’t expect any help from ReallyBigBank. I Googled ReallyBigBank and the number that appeared on my Caller ID actually was the bank’s general access 800 number. So the fraudsters did their homework and made it all look legit. I tried calling the bank to check with their fraud department, just to make sure this wasn’t a legitimate security alert. Guess what? Without an account number or PIN, you can’t get through to a representative. I checked every web page publicly available, and couldn’t find a fraud department phone number that actually would work for non-account holders. To be totally fair to the bank, I finally did succeed in getting a call back from them after 20-30 minutes that confirmed that yes, it probably was phishing, thanks for calling, and now just go away.
An important reminder that financial institutions normally do not call you on the phone (although that said, I have in the past received fraud alert phone calls from a couple banks). If they do call you, do not give out any information. If you have questions, or want to confirm the legitimacy of the call, you call them back at a phone number already known and verified by you, or a number from a legitimate website.
After all these phone gymnastics and a wasted half-hour, all I could hope is that there really isn’t a fake account application floating around out there in my name (I guess if there is, I’ll catch it while checking my credit history, but that’s a topic for another day!). If you have elderly family members, do work with them on protections against phishing, spoofing, and other cyberfraud techniques, since seniors seem to be preferred targets. It’s hard enough for younger, computer-literate consumers to protect themselves online, but seniors who aren’t as electronically-aware are especially vulnerable.
Tip: Want more resources on fraud protection? There’s plenty of great information on AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, including alerts on the latest scams and fraud prevention tips. ❖