“Vishing” is a New Addition To Identity Thieves’ Arsenal

“Phishing” scams have been around since the early days of the Internet. They involve sending an e-mail that looks as if it's from a legitimate bank or merchant asking consumers to re-submit their personal information. Generally, phishing scam emails are intended to cause alarm by telling the consumer that they must resubmit personal information immediately or their accounts will be “suspended.” Consumers are then typically asked to click on a link that takes them to a legitimate-looking Web page in which they are asked to resubmit their personal information, such as account number and passwords.

In a new twist, “vishing” takes advantage of even newer technology to defraud unsuspecting consumers.

Like with phishing scams, vishing typically starts with the same alarming email which appears to be from a legitimate business or banking institution. But rather than instructing consumers to resubmit their personal information online, vishing emails tell the victim to call a phone number through which they can provide their information. When the consumer calls, an automated message identifies itself as the bank or retailer that sent the original email and prompts the consumers to key-in their personal information. Once this information is entered, the scam artist will be able to access the consumer’s account or open lines of credit in his or her name, thus causing considerable harm.

Consumers who by now are wary of dubious emails that link to bogus Web pages might not be as reluctant to call a phone number, especially if it appears to be a local call. However, identity thieves who perpetrate vishing often use new technology that enables them to subscribe to Internet-based phone service via Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP). This makes it possible for a scam artist thousands of miles away to set up a phone account that victims might believe is a local call. But just as in a phishing scam, victims will be submitting their sensitive information to a thief beyond the reach of law enforcement in the United States.

The warning remains the same: Never respond to an email that purports to be from your bank or other business that threatens “suspension” of your account or a similar drastic action unless you immediately re-submit your personal information, either by clicking on a link or calling a phone number. Legitimate businesses do not contact and threaten their clients in this manner. If you have any questions about such emails, contact the bank or business purportedly sending the email directly based on a phone number that appears in the phone directory or your statements. DO NOT call a phone number that appears on an email.

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, immediately file a report with your local law enforcement agency. You should also obtain an ID Theft Victim’s Kit through my office at 1-800-252-8011 or online at www.texasfightsidtheft.gov for additional steps you should take to prevent further losses and clear your name.

General Abbott's signature
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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