Police issue holiday fraud alert

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By Carol A. Clark

Con artists preying on unsuspecting consumers have targeted the local community this holiday season.


Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster has received reports from a number of residents receiving automated calls claiming to be from ZIA Credit Union and other companies.


“The caller tries to trick the resident into divulging account numbers, passwords and other sensitive information,” Foster said. “This is a scam and we caution the public to refrain from ever giving out personal information over the phone. It doesn’t matter who the caller claims to be representing, a legitimate financial institution will never seek that information over the phone.”


There have been sporadic reports of callers saying they represent other establishments apart from ZIA, Foster said, and he advises anyone receiving that type of call to hang up immediately.


A local resident described the call she received last weekend.


“We got a call on Sunday saying our debit card for VISA has a problem and was made inactive,” said the woman who asked that her name not be disclosed for fear of retaliation by the scammers. “The call was automated and asked for our credit card number. I handed the phone to my husband and told him not to give out any information.”


She explained that the automated call directed her to push “this button and that button.”


Her husband hung up the phone and tried to determine where the call was placed from but wasn’t able to she said, and they called police on Monday.


“We want to put a stop to this – it’s a scam, but it’s a clever scam and ours is a good community to target,” she said. “Aside from the fact that there’s a lot of smart people, there’s a lot of money and a lot of credit cards here.”


She added that with the economic crisis plaguing many communities around the country, Los Alamos probably has less failed credit cards than in many other communities.


Police caution of other fraudulent activities circulating the country:


• Credit Card Phone Scam in which a caller claims to work for the fraud department at Visa or MasterCard and provides a badge number. The caller asks if you recently purchased an anti-telemarketing device for nearly $500.


When you say “no,” he tells you the fraud department has been watching that company. He then offers to block the charge and asks to verify your name, address, credit card number and expiration date, and asks for the three-digit code on the back of the credit card.


Do not give out the three-digit code and do not verify other information the caller claims to already have, Foster said. Thieves who may have already stolen your credit card information from another source can't use your card until they get the three-digit code to complete their fraudulent transaction. If you receive this type of phone call, just hang up.


A credit card company does not ask cardholders to disclose security codes or provide any information verifying a physical possession of a card, he said.


• A phishing scheme in which the perpetrator asks a financial institution's customers, via e-mail, to verify their phone number immediately with the financial institution. If they do not confirm their phone number, their account will be suspended.


The email instructions tell the victim to go to their phone and dial *72, then another number, supposedly the financial institution's secure line, then the victim hears the message: “Your phone is confirmed. You will receive a call from us in one hour for final verification. If you have confirmed your phone, you can continue the update process.”


By dialing these numbers, victims actually forward their calls to the thief's redirect number.


This will go on until the victims notice they aren’t getting any calls. Victims may also get a call from the phisher or answering machine posing as their financial institution to ask about any transaction in that period.


After they confirm the phone number, the caller asks them to update their personal information, including Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers.


“Do not respond to such requests by email or phone,” Foster said.


• “Officer of the Court” phone scam in which identity thieves nationwide call victims posing as officers of the court in the victim’s jurisdiction.


The ID thief tells the victim that they failed to comply with jury service and a warrant is being issued for their arrest.


The thief then asks for the victim’s personal information such as social security number, date of birth, account numbers and employment data. The victim is so stressed at being told that a warrant will be issued for their arrest that they give out the information before realizing this is a scam.


“If you believe you have given personal information to an illegitimate source, you should contact the three credit reporting agencies immediately and monitor your credit files and account statements closely,” Foster said.