Scams come to us from all different angles: the Internet, emails, package deliveries, stolen identifications, fake account numbers, altered wire instructions, straw/fake buyers, notary mishaps and even bullies. Sadly, we always have to be on high alert. Like most things in life there are new twists. This time it involves your office phone.
Phone fraud seems like the kind of thing that is easy to identify. The phone rings and the person on the other end wants to give a special offer or maybe even purports they are with the police, a credit card company or even a debt collector needing some personal information. With the new twist, unbeknownst to you, you could be helping criminals commit their crimes. In other instances, the scammers are trying to bully and take advantage of you!
Learn the three new social engineering schemes that have occurred in our offices, as well as our title issuing agents:
The thieves target companies typically closed on nights and weekends. They call the company and then access each employee's voice mail. They program the employee's direct line to dial a number outside the U.S. – charging the business each time the number is called.
Hundreds and even thousands of calls are made. How did the scammers get access? The phones either do not have a passcode set to access voicemail or the passcode set is a generic number.
Unfortunately, getting out of paying the fraudulent phone charges is not always easy. Some phone companies will hold customers responsible for all or a portion of the charges and note the customer's equipment was not secure – therefore putting the onus on the victim.
One of our title agents in Indiana recently fell victim to this crime. In one weekend, the fraudsters racked up $50,000 in long distance charges on the agent's phone bill. Another business (not a title agency) in the same city, had charges over the weekend in excess of half a million dollars. The scammers made thousands of overseas calls to phone numbers with a set charge to the business each time the number was called — in this particular case the charge was $34.83 per call. The scammers were paid a percentage from each call.
LESSON LEARNED: Avoid generic voicemail passcodes like 1111, 2222, 1234. Change your voicemail passcode when you change your Internet password.
Working in the front office or at the receptionist desk can be stressful with lots of phone calls to handle, people coming in and out, and assisting in the office tasks. A phone call comes in, the person on the line says they are with the phone company and they are testing the lines. The person states in order to test the lines they need to be transferred to extension 90. Transferring the person to a 90 or 90xx number allows the criminal to connect to an outside long distance operator through the office phone system and call foreign phone numbers that rack up the phone bill. The phone calls are made during normal business hours making it impossible to dispute the charges since there is no way to know who made the calls. The telephone hackers then receive payment as a percentage of each charge.
LESSON LEARNED: Never transfer a caller to extension 90, 900 or any form of extension 90xx.
The caller states they are with a collection agency, such as a "payday loan" company. They are calling to collect payment for a debt from an employee of the Company. The caller knows personal information about the employee, which makes the call seem legitimate. They are relentless in the amount of times they call. The calls become more frequent and the caller becomes more belligerent.
The Caller ID will typically display an invalid phone number, for example 503.210.5366, 397.560.2365, 521.203.0230 or no number at all. They might even call the employee directly, threatening legal action if the debt is not paid. Specifics about the debt are never provided. The intent of the call is to disrupt the business, create frustration, leaving the employee feeling embarrassed and so desperate they send payment to make them stop calling.
LESSON LEARNED: If the caller knows your personal information it is likely your identity has been compromised. Do not provide them with payment information or any additional personal information. Contact the three major credit bureaus, notify your banking institution and file a complaint via www.ic3.gov/default.aspx. The office should also file a complaint, report the incident to the phone company and ask if it is possible for the phone numbers to be blocked.
The only way to stop this type of fraud is having well–educated employees who are familiar with these types of fraud schemes and refuse to be manipulated by these criminals. Discuss this article with all employees who answer incoming calls.