Roger Alswager, 76, of Mesa, received a fishy phone call recently.
Just hand over some personal banking information and you’ll receive $5,000 in income tax money, a foreign voice promised him. The caller knew his name, and a friendly voice reassured him it was safe. But Alswager knew better. He hung up and notified his bank.
Alswager was aware of this type of scam — but not everyone is. So the FBI and Arizona Bankers Association are warning people to be careful.
The scam is called “phishing,” which is a term that comes from the idea that con artists are trying to “fish” for consumers’ personal and financial information. Although only 3 percent to 5 percent of the targeted victims actually bite, the costs can be devastating.
According to special agent Deborah McCarley at the Phoenix FBI office, an East Valley woman gave her banking information in October to an online phisher, who claimed she was about to lose online banking services.
The woman soon became concerned and contacted authorities.
“Within two minutes, her information was being used to access her bank account from Yugoslavia,” McCarley said.
The scams take place all over the world, and the scammers use every medium from Internet to phones, faxes and mail to contact potential victims, McCarley said. More than half of all phishing scammers contact individuals over e-mail, while only about 10 percent use the telephone.
“The good news is that fewer people are actually responding to these callers, but the bad news is more phishing attempts are actually taking place,” said president and CEO of Arizona Bankers Association Tanya Wheeless.
Jim Reed of Chandler had a similar experience when someone claiming to be with Chase Bank requested his information in exchange for identity theft protection.
“He had my name and phone number, which kind of amazed me,” Reed said.
Reed only heard from the phishers one time, but Alswager received three more calls before the scammers finally gave up on him. Each time they called, the dollar amount offered went up.
“I know darn well that I’ve got no money coming from income tax,” Alswager said. “So when someone says ‘you’ve got money coming and all you have to do is give us some information,’ I don’t talk to anyone like that.”
How to avoid becoming a victim:
• Never give personal information to anyone who calls or e-mails you.
• If the caller claims to be from your bank or credit card company, tell them you will call them back. Then call the number on the back of your card and verify the call.
• Remember scammers can use phones, faxes, e-mails and postal mail.
— Arizona Bankers Association