Monday, August 05, 2013

IMPORTANT: A sophisticated scam to get your money

Important to read as a warning:  This particular scam happened to a Brit, but the same kind of scam is taking place all over the world.  Thieves are getting more and more sophisticated about how to steal your money, your credit card and your good credit rating/name.

HOW I GOT SCAMMED (Think only an idiot would turn over their PIN number to a stranger? Think again!)

By Andy Welch

My landline rang. It was a Sunday morning and I was surprised because I’d given the number to only three people as I tended to use my mobile phone instead. 

‘Hello Mr Welch, Visa Card Services here.’ That was the line with which my nightmare started.

The person on the other end of the phone — Mark — told me there had been a number of fraudulent transactions on my bank account since midnight, adding up to about £1,100.

I’d never heard of Visa Card Services before, but then I’d never had money stolen like this before. Maybe this is what happens. 

Mark then confirmed the last genuine withdrawal I’d made — at a Barclays cashpoint in North London, opposite Highbury & Islington station. He then gave me a reference number and told me to ring the number on the back of my bank card.

I did just that, quoted the reference number and spoke to someone who knew all about the supposed fraud. 

These cunning tricksters had apparently cloned my card at the ATM I’d used and then treated themselves to a few things in the Apple Store on Regent Street.

Something didn’t ring true about the whole thing: why, for starters, would someone with a stolen bank card spend only £400 in the Apple Store? But I watch enough consumer TV to know these things happen.

The person helping me, Rajesh Khan in HSBC’s card protection department, had my full name, date of birth and, crucially, my address. He said a courier was on the way to collect my bank card for further examination. 

Initially I flinched, but when he explained they needed to analyse the chip, it seemed to make sense. After all, I’d called the bank myself: this had to be genuine. 

And that is probably the same reason I typed my PIN into the keypad of my phone when he asked.

I packaged the card as requested — wrapped in kitchen roll, packed into an envelope so it didn’t look like a bank card — and waited for the courier. 

Rajesh called back twice: once to say the car was five minutes away and again to say it was outside, quoting the car’s number plate and describing the driver.

He called again later that afternoon to say they’d received the card and that I’d have my money back in a few days. ‘Great,’ I thought.

So taken in was I by the efficiency of it all that I went through exactly the same process the following day when Visa Card Services called to say there was now a problem with my credit card. 

The fraudsters had somehow hacked into my online account, got my credit card details and maxed it out.

Good old Rajesh told me this time there was a shred of hope the criminals would be arrested as they’d made the mistake of buying Eurostar tickets to Paris on a specific train. The police would be waiting for them at St Pancras. Amazing news!

A few days went by and Rajesh stopped calling. By then I was about £4,000 out of pocket, so I called the bank, this time from my mobile. 

After explaining the situation to two or three people, I heard the most chilling phrase of all: ‘But Mr Welch, your cards haven’t been reported stolen.’

I’ve never been speechless before. I’ve never been able to feel the colour drain from my face either. But now I was, and I did. 

Why had I given my card to a stranger? Why had I typed my PIN into the phone? How did they know my landline number? How did they know my mother’s maiden name? How did they have my address?

The police still haven’t been able to establish the answers to these last three questions, but say that such criminals are remarkably adept at gleaning personal information from the internet and the electoral roll.

And, most infuriating of all, why hadn’t I checked my balance before I even called the bank that Sunday morning?

When I did check, things were far worse than I’d expected. The Apple Store story was all a lie. In fact, they had spent thousands in clothes shops and, best of all, treated themselves to a Dixie Fried Chicken each evening. To cap it all off, my rent payment had bounced. 

By then, I was panicking. What if I didn’t get a refund? The security expert at the bank said this was a possibility. It would take me years to pay off debt like this.

I called the police, who put me onto their dedicated fraud line.

After explaining my idiocy once again — it’s pretty humbling, repeatedly telling people you’re the type of person who gives your bank card and PIN to the first person who asks for them — they went through the likely series of events that led to this theft.

In the end, the total taken from my account was about £5,500. 

It all started, said the police, on the Saturday night when one of this gang will have watched me take money from the cashpoint. 

That’s details of my last transaction taken care of. The police then believe that I was followed home, which is how they got my address. My name and landline number they doubtless obtained with a bit of research online.

As for the call, well, it’s pretty clever. Only the person who initiates a landline call can cut it off. If the person who receives the call puts down the receiver, it doesn’t hang up.

So, when I went to find my bank card, the fraudsters were still on the other end, waiting for me to pick up the phone and call ‘the bank’. 

As I did this, they first played a dial tone down the line and then a ring tone. 

‘Rajesh’ will have been sitting next to ‘Mark’, the first person who called me, no doubt both laughing their heads off at how stupid I’d been. I was right to praise the bank’s efficiency, though. They got me all my money back within ten days, though I did have to get new bank accounts and cards. 

It was a pretty lean spell and by the time I got my money back, I’d spent my last 60p on a tin of beans.

My family and friends offered money, but I didn’t have a bank account for them to pay money into and there was a chance I had the sharp end of six grand to pay back, so I didn’t need to owe another £50 on top of that. 

The feeling of total financial ruin, of utter helplessness, isn’t one I’ll forget in a hurry. Setting up new direct debits was an unholy pain and even now, five months on, I’m still having problems.

My credit rating has taken a serious knock, while getting the various bank departments to talk to one another and not try to charge me a few hundred quid in overdraft charges was no picnic.

I’ve since had to sign up to a number of other bank schemes and government services to protect myself. I get a monthly statement of credit checks in my name, for example, so I’ll know if these  people are using the information they have on me. 

It took a few weeks to stop worrying about the same people coming back to my house, too, though spending hours online researching the link between bank fraud and violent crime — virtually non-existent — helped with that.

Out of everything, accepting that it had happened at all probably took the longest. 

I’m still coming to terms with it, but I think being a bit more suspicious isn’t a bad thing. 

Being paranoid, though? Well, hopefully that will just wear off in time. I like to think I’m a tech-savvy, culturally aware person. I read about internet security. 

I know about phishing: criminals masquerading as a friend or business to dupe you into revealing your passwords or bank details. 

Yet all that knowledge left me when it counted. 

Financial fraud is often deemed a victimless crime because, ultimately, it’s only huge companies footing the bill, not individuals. 

Having suffered the stress, upset and countless hours spent sorting it out, I know it’s anything but victimless.

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