Archive for Thursday, March 23, 2006

Banker urges residents to watch for scams

March 23, 2006

Fishing is a good thing.

Phishing is not.

Debbie Krivjansky, who works at Tonganoxie's First State Bank and Trust, said scams, whether by telephone or the Internet, can result in unauthorized withdrawals from bank accounts.

Companies gather information from unsuspecting individuals through a process called phishing, Krivjansky said.

As Krivjansky described it, the goal of phishing is to obtain citizens' routing numbers or bank account numbers. Elderly citizens usually are targeted. The phone calls, or e-mails, are presented as representing legitimate companies. But in actuality, they're looking for someone to bite and give out vital financial information.

"They ask them questions and are so smooth about it," Krivjansky said.

At First State Bank, Krivjansky recently dealt with unauthorized transactions involving three customers -- withdrawals that all occurred in the same week.

Each customer's withdrawal for pharmaceutical products was for $398 and was approved through a company in Kentucky, Krivjansky said. The customers since have been reimbursed.

Krivjansky urges area residents not to give out bank information -- unless it's to a company they have dealt with frequently and with which they feel comfortable.

And if a company that a customer deals with calls saying they've not received payment for a bill and the payment already has been sent, Krivjansky advises not giving out routing or account numbers.

Companies can use the information to make an electronic withdrawal. Then when the check arrives, the customer will be charged twice.

Krivjansky said customers simply should say: "The check is in the mail. I don't want to give that information. Please wait for the check to clear."

In general, Krivjansky said people should be cautious when a new company calls or they receive solicited e-mails.

"You do not have to be nice to these folks," Krivjansky said. "You don't have to be rude, but you don't have to give them any information. Unless you initiate the call and it is a company you always have dealt with, you give them no information."

Unauthorized withdrawal

One Tonganoxie woman's account was targeted recently for an unauthorized withdrawal. The woman said the $398 check was cashed Nov. 21 in the Caribbean and her bank received the canceled check Dec. 8. She said she never gave out any information over the phone and does not use the Internet.

Dustin Holliday, a Tonganoxie police officer, said the case was odd because the check, which appeared computer-generated, had a check number higher than 160,000.

"I don't know whether hacking was involved but it was scary because it had her address, her name," Holliday said. "It was an automatic withdrawal. It wasn't a normal hard copy."

Holliday said customers should speak with their bank about the possibility of strange withdrawals, such as the one cashed in the Caribbean.

When it comes to giving out personal information, Holliday reiterated Krivjansky's advice: Don't give out information unless it's a company the customer is familiar with.

Social Security numbers rarely need to be provided.

"As far as ordering something out of a catalog or over the Internet, no need to give social security or bank account number, unless you trust the company," Holliday said.

In September, Krivjansky will lead an identity theft seminar that is open to the public.

At the meeting, police, post office and bank officials will discuss how to combat fraud. The event will be Sept. 19 at First State Bank's training center, which is just east of the Ratliff Drug Store in downtown Tonganoxie.

Phone scam

Attempted scams occur often. Before Christmas, a Tonganoxie woman, who did not wish to be identified, received a phone call from a man who asked if she'd like to have a $5,000 government grant to use for Christmas shopping.

The caller then asked her whether she could use a $20,000 grant for anything, such as home improvements. He said he needed to know her address to send a kit with information on obtaining the grants.

Sensing the call was a scam, the woman said she told the caller that if he had her phone number, he likely had her address as well.

He verified her address from records he had. The only other information he needed was the name of the woman's bank, he said, in order to send the kit.

That's when she ended the conversation.

The Tonganoxie woman later saw a televised news segment about a woman who gave the name of her bank to a similar caller. That woman lost $1,500.

"Anybody in their right mind would know it was a scam from the word go," the Tonganoxie woman said.

Recently, she again received a call from a telemarketer offering grant money.

This time, the woman said, she asked for the man's phone number, and he then abruptly hung up.

She said she's worried about the phone calls because, she said, telemarketers tend to target elderly people.

"It really irritates me mainly because I think these people try to get to old people, and I think that is so sad," she said. "Thank goodness I didn't fall for it."

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