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February 24, 2014

Phone Fraud: Now It's Personal!

One recent Sunday evening, I received a call on my mobile phone from a number with a 374 area code. I did not recognize this number, and it wasn't in my stored contacts. I answered the call, and there was that brief pause that alerted me it was likely a mass marketing call. I was getting ready to launch into my standard "No, thank you, and this number is on the Do Not Call registry, so please don't call again," when a female voice with a strong foreign accent identified herself as a representative from the Microsoft Windows Security Center. "Microsoft" and "security" are two words that are likely to grab anyone's attention quickly, so I stopped myself. She then asked me to verify that I had a computer running Microsoft Windows. I mean, who doesn't but the most diehard Apple user? All kinds of warning bells were sounding in my head, but I played along to see where this routine was going.

In a recent post, I wrote about the growing problem of criminals targeting bank call centers. Well, criminals target consumers, too. Sometimes the callers claim to be representatives of the consumer's financial institution, and they try to get account or payment card information. I ended the post post with descriptions of some of the new technology being used to fight against this type of fraud. Unfortunately, most consumers don't have access to the technology the banks do to help identify the fraudsters.

But back to my call. The caller informed me that the Microsoft Windows Security Center had received a message that my computer was infected with a virus. She added that the Security Center had a download available to remove the virus and protect my computer, it would cost only $19.99, and she could take payment over the phone with a credit card. I asked which of my computers sent the message because I didn't want to pay to have the download put on noninfected computers. My response seemed to confuse her. But then she said that the download could be installed on up to three computers at no additional charge—what a bargain! I then told her a security scan the night before had found nothing wrong and I didn't believe she was from Microsoft, and I hung up. When I tried to trace the phone number, I learned there is no 374 area code in the United States, but 374 is Armenia's country code.

While the earlier post showed the need for financial institutions to use a cross-channel fraud mitigation strategy, we must always keep in mind that consumers are also under frequent attack. As we at Portals and Rails have stated many times, continuing education is a vital factor in helping customers protect their money, and this experience only reinforces that need. I was informed enough to sniff this call out for the scam that it was, but would my 84-year-old mother-in-law have been as savvy? Maybe I should give her a call to make sure!

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

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