2009-05-01 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Have you received a suspicious prerecorded voice message stating that you need to contact your bank at a specified telephone number immediately? Have you received a message stating that your credit card interest rate has expired, or that you may be able to receive a lower interest rate, if you call a particular telephone number? If so, you are not alone. These fraudulent warnings and unsolicited messages are common lures used in a new form of phishing attack known as voice phishing. Identity thieves that run voice phishing schemes are hoping that their targets are more willing to let their guard down over the phone, since most consumers are accustomed to providing information such as credit card numbers and personal information to businesses over the phone.

Fortunately, there are several ways to protect yourself from this emerging form of identity theft.

The most common form of voice phishing attack involves the use of auto-dialing systems to send prerecorded voice or text messages that instruct the recipient to call a specified telephone number in order to resolve a problem with their bank account or credit card. Upon calling the number, the recipient is asked to divulge sensitive personal information, such as their financial account numbers and PIN numbers. As a general rule, do not give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call or know the identity of the person with whom you are speaking. Be wary of any prerecorded voice message directing you to call a telephone number you are not familiar with or any text message allegedly sent from a business that contains spelling or grammatical errors. Remember, legitimate businesses primarily correspond with customers through regular mail.

If you receive a voice or text message that you suspect may be fraudulent, do not call the telephone number included in the message, since this may only serve to alert the scammer to the fact that your number is a valid and working number. If the message purports to be from an entity that you do business with, call the business at a number you know to be valid and ask if they sent the message. Be sure to write down the contents of the message and the date and time it was received so that you can forward this information to the Federal Communications Commission if you decide to file a complaint.

To file a complaint regarding a suspicious voice or text message with the FCC, you may call 1-888- 225-5322, e-mail fccinfo@fcc.gov, use the electronic complaint form at http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.h tm, or write to: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau, Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20554. If you believe that you have been victimized by a voice phishing scheme involving a financial account, you should contact the financial institution immediately.

If you provided personally identifying information, such as your Social Security number, to an unknown individual over the phone, check your credit report and financial accounts for unauthorized activity and consider visiting the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft website at http://www.ftc.gov/ bcp/edu/ microsites/idtheft/ to learn about ways to protect your identity.

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