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ID Theft Prevention

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued a consumer alert warning of a new, dangerous identity theft scheme targeting credit union members across the country.

The alert issued by the attorney general advises consumers of spoof e-mails directing credit union members to call a telephone number and confirm their personal information. Abbot warns, consumers who make the call do not reach their credit union, but instead end up on the telephone with a scam artist who wants to steal their identity.

Savvy consumers have increasingly learned to identify and delete spoof e-mails that falsely appear to originate from legitimate banks or credit card companies. Known as "phishing," these e-mails direct consumers to a decoy Web site that allows the scammers to collect all the information they need to empty the customers' bank accounts and ruin their credit.

"Phishing" scams have been around for years, but increasingly sophisticated criminals now send e-mails instructing consumers to call a telephone number instead of clicking on a link. This tactic, known as "vishing," can be especially effective because consumers who encounter a live person are much more likely to let down their guard. These "vishing" scams combine the "phishing" ploy with a Web-based telephone scheme. The telephone numbers that appear in these e-mails are set up through VoIP, which is an Internet-based telecommunications service. Even though the phone number appears to be based in a familiar U.S. area code, the scammers are most likely in other countries and impossible to track down.

The latest "vishing" scam immediately disarms consumers by specifically warning about similar schemes. In Attorney General Abbott's alert, he sites one recently circulated e-mail that regretfully informs the recipient that numerous fraudulent emails, which ask for personal account information, have been circulating. And because of this, they are launching a new security system to make credit union accounts more secure and safe. In order take advantage of the new Consumer Identity Theft Protection Program, the sender advises that they had to deactivate access to their card account. In order to re-activate, the recipient would have to call immediately the number provided in the email.

In an especially brazen move, the e-mail offers identity theft tips and links to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) identity theft prevention Web site. Consumers who think the e-mail is legitimate call the number and furnish sensitive information to a person they believe is a trusted credit union employee. Only when their identity is stolen do they realize it was all a scam.

Consumers who receive this or any other unexpected e-mail or phone call seeking personal information should not respond. Consumers who have concerns about their account should contact their credit union by calling the telephone number that appears in the local directory or on their periodic statements. Never click on a link or call a telephone number that appears in an unexpected e-mail.