Beware of These New Cellphone Identity Theft Scams

By Robert E. Holtfreter, Ph.D., CFE, CICA

robert-holtfreter-80x80.jpg   Taking Back the ID

Winnie Franklin received a text message on her cell phone that purported to be from Wells Fargo Bank. The message read: "Wells Fargo notice — Your card 4868 has been deactivated." Included with the message was a telephone number to call to receive additional information to fix the perceived problem. Winnie recently had completed a fraud examination class at a local university, and one thing she had learned was to be highly skeptical of any unusual message originating from her land line, cellphone or computer. So, she wisely ignored the text message, opened her laptop and emailed all her friends to warn them about the potential scam. Good thing she did, because the text message was a "smishing" scam, which I will explain later in this column.

Identity Theft and Cellphones  

According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), cellular fraud is defined as "the unauthorized use, tampering or manipulation of a cellular phone or service." The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracked consumer complaints of identity theft from fraudulent cell phone scams and reported its findings in an annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Of the 250,854 identity theft complaints reported in 2010, the wireless or cellphone category accounted for 3.7 percent, or 9,282, of them. Cellphone use is escalating and, most likely, so will the number of related identity-theft complaints. In addition, technology-savvy criminals will continue to develop new cellphone scams that we'll have to confront.

Cellphones are increasingly more popular targets. Fraudsters are exploiting the cellphone arena to market their scams and harvest personally identifiable information. This is particularly true in the past 20 months because consumers now can conduct transactions with financial institutions from their handhelds. An analysis of some significant cellphone scams follow.



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