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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 03, 2005
Consumer Alert: Identity Thieves Exploit Security Breaches


SEATTLE – Attorney General Rob McKenna warned consumers today to be wary of phone calls and e-mails from con artists who – piggybacking on recent security breach reports – pretend to be from the fraud department of a bank or credit card company.

“Cons are exploiting public concern about credit card fraud and identity theft in the wake of recent security breaches at financial companies,” McKenna said. “Ironically, they are posing as someone from your bank or credit card company’s fraud unit. In reality, they are malicious crooks who want to rack up fraudulent charges on your account or commit other forms of identity theft.”

“Cons are making calls and sending bogus e-mails that are sometimes very convincing,” McKenna said. “The catch is that the customer is asked to provide personal information, such as a Social Security number or account number. Legitimate financial companies that you do business with already have this information. Consumers should independently verify any requests for personal information by directly contacting their bank or credit card company.”

Examples of recent fraud attempts include:

• Voicemail messages indicating the target was a victim of fraud. The messages instruct the listener to call another number to confirm a credit card number.
• The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that a local woman received several calls instructing her to punch in the last four digits of her Social Security number. An automated voice asked for her by name and claimed to be part of the fraud unit of a major national credit company. The woman, who did not fall for the scam, reportedly called her credit card company and learned that it had not made the calls.
• Widely distributed e-mails that appear to have originated from a national bank and suggest that a customer’s account was compromised. “Protecting the security of your account and the [name of bank]’s network is our primary concern. Therefore, as a preventive measure, we have temporarily limited access to sensitive account features,” one such message states. To reactivate their accounts, customers are instructed to click on a Web link, which takes them to a phony site that asks them to provide account information.

McKenna said consumers should never give information over the phone unless they initiated the call. Nor should they send personal information in an e-mail message.

“Consumers should also be suspicious of any e-mail message that requests personal data, such as a password, Social Security number or account number, or sends you to a Web site that asks for such information,” McKenna said. “Cons often use a ploy called ‘phishing,’ sending e-mails that appear to come from respected companies but are actually attempts to steal information.”

Another growing scam is “pharming,” McKenna warned, which involves redirecting Web users to phony sites where criminals can capture passwords and other data.

Tips on protecting your personal information and what to do if you become a victim of identity theft are available from the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General’s Office:

FTC's ID Theft Hotline: 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338), www.ftc.gov/idtheft

Attorney General's Office Consumer Protection Division: 800-551-4636, or Online.

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For more information contact:
Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432, KristinA1@atg.wa.gov

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