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Vishing: Combining Phone and Online Fraud

Vishing...it's indeed unusual sounding word, but there's nothing funny about it.

Vishing is a phone scam in which criminals call people with a scary sounding (but untrue) story about the compromised bank accounts and the money in it. But their goal isn't to scare the individual...it's to swindle them.

It could happen to you, like this...

You get a call on your home or business phone from a person identifying themselves as an employee of your bank. They say they work in the fraud department and that there has been suspicious activity with your checking account.

"The account has been compromised," they'll say, which means somebody is using it and taking your money. "But don't worry," they say. They advise you to make an online money transfer into a new account, one they have already set up for you, while they straighten out the mess. Of course, they have money-transfer process all set up for your convenience to prevent more loss.

But as you've no doubt guessed, the caller isn't legitimate, but is instead an imposter who is playing the role of a fraud prevention specialist for the bank. One they have the account details you provided, they go online and take your money.

Smart people don't fall for this, do they?

Of course they do, because the fraudsters are good at what they do and, remember, they know they'll be able to trick someone sooner or later. It could be you.

That's what happened to a professional businesswoman who was setting up a new business from home when she got a call from her bank, alerting her to fraudulent activity on her account.

She was quoted as saying, "They were completely professional, it was a clear telephone line, they knew my name, they called me on my landline, and they used all the right language," she says. "They were very reassuring, saying 'I know this is a distressing time for you and I'm going to help you'."

Her trust, and her momentary lapse in judgment, cost her about $200,000.

Why you have to be careful.

It wasn't totally her fault. Skilled fraudsters can pull together a pretty convincing story when it comes to helping you protect your money...all the while planning to rob you blind. They have all the right components in place to sound legitimate:

The right details: Who knows how they came across it, but they have your correct name, address and account numbers. And they sound so professional.

A serious message: Just hearing that your money may be in trouble is enough to get you focused on the message and not the messenger. Your guard comes down.

Phone skills: According to some reports, some crooks are able to control the phone connection, so even if you try to hang up to call your bank, you get reconnected to the imposter.

Business tone: You hear other voices in the background; it all sounds like "call center" activity, which is what you might expect from your bank. It sounds real, so it must be real.

How to trip up a trickster.

You need to be wary and be ready to take action. You also need to converse with the caller to find out if they're actually calling from your bank, which is a possibility.

Here are a few ways to proceed if you ever get a call about your bank accounts.

  1. Ask them if they can identify your past few transactions—when and where they were made. If they are legitimate they would have that information at their fingertips. If they don't, they're faking it.
  2. End the phone call, then look up your bank's actual customer service and call their help center. You'll find the number on back of your ATM or credit card.
  3. Do not verify your account numbers or other personal information and do not authorize any money transfer for the opening of a new account.
  4. If you can, go online immediately and check your account activity. If you don't see anything suspicious going on, your account is probably safe.

Your real bank would help you.

Keep this in mind: almost all banks will not hold you responsible for fraudulent activity on your accounts. If your bank did call you with an urgent, legitimate concern, they'd likely shut down your account and issue you a new card.

In other words, they would handle the money issues, not you.

So when you hear the person on the other end of the phone advising you to transfer money or set up new accounts, that's a good indication that this may be a Vishing scam.

And that it's time to simply hang up the phone (without saying goodbye.)

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