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Phishing in your wallet.

Byline: The Register-Guard

"Your Oregon Community CU account is closed due to unusual activity."

Actually, the most unusual activity was the use of cell phone text messaging to transmit the above message to thousands of 541 area code cell phones early Saturday morning. What wasn't unusual was that the scam worked, and it cost at least 100 unsuspecting Oregon Community Credit members several hundred dollars each in fraudulent charges posted to their accounts.

Conning people out of personal information that can be used to access credit cards or bank accounts is called "phishing" (there's no compelling reason for the cute spelling). Scammers are fishing for private information and trying to hook as many unsuspecting people as possible with increasingly sophisticated lures.

Saturday's phishing expedition was successful largely because it involved an unfamiliar approach. Most people are well aware of the ubiquitous e-mail phishing scams involving European lottery wins or hilariously ungrammatical requests to transfer large sums of money to an American bank.

But the use of text messages was both novel and devious.

The message was sent out before 6:30 a.m., when credit union offices would be closed, to thousands of cell phones with 541 area code numbers. The scammers apparently knew enough about the Oregon Community Credit Union's service area to know that among the block of targeted numbers - probably chosen at random - they were likely to hit lots of credit union members. They were right.

The text message listed an 836 area code number to call. Callers who dialed the central Florida number heard an automated message telling them they needed to provide three pieces of information, starting with their debit card number.At least 100 people called the number and later had an average of two to three fraudulent charges posted to their accounts.

It's easy to understand how alarming it would be to receive a message that your account has been closed "due to unusual activity," but it's also easy to avoid falling in to such traps. You'll never be fried in a phishing scam if you refuse to disclose your financial account information or Social Security number to anyone over the telephone or in response to an e-mail message.

Remember, banks and government agencies already have your account information and Social Security number. They never ask for verification of such information in an unsolicited phone or e-mail message. If there's any doubt about the need for or legitimacy of such a request, verify it with the organization before complying.

If you conduct financial business on the Internet, it's crucial to make sure your Web browser is up to date and the latest security patches are installed.

The other thing to remember is that phishing isn't going away. Phishers still make millions off the old e-mail scams, and they're constantly coming up with new and improved schemes. The best protection is healthy skepticism about any request for private information.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Scammers use text messaging in new fraud scheme
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 26, 2008
Previous Article:Elect Macpherson.

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