How to not fall for a scam…

July 30, 2010 · 4 comments

I just almost fell for a scam.  Almost! It is a clever and simple scam. And if someone like me (usually savvy and streetwise) could fall for this, then a lot of others could too.  Briefly, one scammer calls you to say you can lower your interest rate on your credit card; then a second scammer calls you back to talk you into charging your credit card with (in my case) $807.

In the interest of helping others to protect themselves, here’s what happened to me…

I got a call from a number in Montana, in which the caller (Scammer #1) said he worked for Visa Card Services and that, as I someone who had been making regular payments on my credit card, I was entitled to a reduction in my interest rate.

When he asked me for my 16-digit credit card number, I immediately said that I wasn’t comfortable providing that information as I was not the person who had originated the call. Don’t worry, ma’am, we do not ask you for any security information.  We do not ask for your PIN, your password or your 3-digit security code [the one on the back of your card] so please don’t tell me this information. All I need is your zip code.

Assured that the call was legitimate, I innocently provided him with the credit card number and my zip code. He placed me on hold for less than a minute and confirmed all sorts of information that lulled me into a false sense of security:

1) my current balance
2) my remaining credit line
3) my payment date
4) my minimum payment due

Thank you very much, said Scammer #1, someone will call you back in the next 30-45 minutes to give you a code to lower your rate. He emphasized the importance of taking the call, which at the time sounded like an enthusiastic salesman, but in retrospect is a red flag.

Scammer #2 called 30 minutes later, this time from Florida. First red flag.  He spoke very quickly, and hurriedly tried to explain to me that he could reduce my annual interest from $2900 to $807.  When he started talking about how the $807 would be an actual CHARGE on my card, but “don’t freak out, it’s a one off payment that gets broken up over the year” I handed the phone to my husband, who is much better with understanding financial stuff than I am, for a second opinion.

So there was Mr. Fizgig asking questions, whilst I went to google “card services scam” on the internet.  I found this link to a thread on HoneyPot.net in which all sorts of people were describing similar experiences dating from October 2007 and told W. to hang up.  He didn’t have to. Scammer #2 caught wind of our suspicion and hung up on us.

I immediately called my bank to cancel my cards, and guess what? I was asked for my credit card number and zip code, as Scammer #1 had asked for… and then I was listening to an automated message giving me the details of the four things listed above (current balance, remaining credit line, payment date, minimum payment).

My cards were cancelled before any charges were made on my account, but others might not be so lucky.  I’ve already emailed my bank to inform them that this automated message is a flaw in security, because it’s very easy to exploit.

Did you ever get scammed or narrowly avoid getting scammed? Post your thoughts below.

So, be safe, and please share this story with others.

Specific info below, for anyone who wants to compare details:

When I asked Scammer #1 for his name and extension/ direct line, he said:  Orest, +1 888 559 2126

The number that Scammer #1 (aka “Orest”) called from was Montana: +1 406 351 4004

The number that Scammer #2 called from was Florida: +1 561 287 4305

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