How Financial Crooks Literally Have You at Hello

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My work cellphone buzzed with an incoming call the other morning, and as I gazed down upon the display, I could see that the caller ID flashed a local area code and exchange that originated from somewhere nearby in the DC/VA/MD area where I live. I answered the call only to discover that an automated voice in my ear was warning me that I had a critical message from my bank about my credit card.

I was instructed to press the number one on my keypad to speak to a call center agent for more information. As I listened to the message I felt my body sort of hovering outside of itself for a moment as I contemplated why I suddenly had an issue with my credit card—especially considering that it was just recently reissued due to the Neiman Marcus data intrusion.  How could there be ANOTHER problem so soon? (Picture steam emanating from my ears at this point)

It’s not uncommon today to assume that your payment card and your identity have been compromised.  Some of the largest data breaches in history are unpleasantly entering our states of conscience.   Today, more than ever, consumers are predisposed to the notion that identity theft is perhaps the inevitable byproduct of living in the digital age.  If we are that tuned into the possibility of being some thief’s next victim then why aren’t we doing a better job of protecting ourselves?

The comical part of this story is that I not only work in fraud detection but I am constantly admonishing others about the dangers of falling prey to bogus emails, texts and phone calls from strangers.  I rail against the evils of not checking your bank accounts more frequently and I can’t tell you how many times I have yanked, pulled and twisted ATMs in my quest to ensure that there were no skimmers present before I swiped my card and entered my PIN.  How is it possible that I am suddenly sweating it out over a little automated phone call?


My initial panic subsided and I quickly realized that my “robo caller” was an excellent opportunity to gather some first-hand recon on how criminals are operating telephone scams today so I quickly pressed 1 on my phone keypad and was immediately connected to a heavily accented male voice posing as a customer service representative.  The gentleman immediately asked me to provide my zip code and credit card number.  I complied with his request by giving him a random zip code and a fake card number which he happily accepted.  This was the moment that I realized that I was the intended victim of a scam. So of course, without preamble, I hung up the call. Scammers are getting better at phishing, and it’s not always as obvious as you think. So I jotted down some observations that could be beneficial to you in the future should a fraudster randomly call or text your number

Hello and Goodbye!

What company did you say you were calling from again?  My caller didn’t even bother to introduce himself or ask me what my name was.  There was never a reference to a particular brand of credit card or financial institution mentioned during the interaction.  This is a huge red flag!

Would your financial institution deliver an important communication to you by using antagonizing or threatening language?  Make it a point to ask your card issuer or financial institution how they plan to contact you if there is ever a real emergency or problem with your account.  Most likely, you will receive a paper letter and a secure email message when you log into a secure online banking session.  You won’t receive a poorly executed message if it’s coming from your authentic financial services provider.

Hang up the phone, delete the text and call your financial institution.  There is absolutely no reason why you can’t terminate a suspicious call and then follow up on your own when it’s convenient.  Make sure you are calling the number on the back of your payment card or look up your financial institution’s information and reach out to them through proper channels.

Invest in your financial security.  I highly recommend that you tune into your financial affairs before a fraudster does.  When was the last time you reviewed your credit report and score? I’m obviously biased here, but FICO Score Watch provides instant access to your FICO Score and Equifax Credit Report as well as on-the-go mobile alerts of important changes to your credit. This kind of credit monitoring helps you take action fast if a crook has gotten his hands on your credit. Of course, there are other options out there. But when it comes to my credit, I like to be alerted by a trusted source.

Update your records!  When was the last time you provided your “can be reached” information to your bank, credit union or credit card company?  If there was a critical issue at hand and your mailing address and phone numbers are outdated, then you are immediately cutting yourself out of the loop.

There is no harm is terminating a potentially bad situation by taking a deep breath and thinking more clearly and logically.  If you do experience contact with a fraudster I would also suggest that you report this activity to your bank or credit union as a precaution.  The best advice I can give anyone is pretty similar to what your mother might say “If it feels strange or uncomfortable then it’s probably a good idea to follow your instincts”.

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Author Bio: John Buzzard is a nationally recognized expert on ATM fraud and financial crime. He is also a product manager at FICO.

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