Call Center Scams on Rise

New Fraud Tactics Exploit Misdialed Calls
Call Center Scams on Rise

Security experts for months have been warning of upticks in call center fraud targeting banking institutions. And a new scheme recently identified by a credit union in the Northwest demonstrates that fraudsters sometimes use tactics that take advantage of callers misdialing numbers.

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Last month, executives at this $1 billion credit union, which asked to remain unnamed, started getting reports from members about suspicious questions they had been asked regarding their accounts when calling the institution's toll-free number.

In most cases, members were greeted by an automated recorded offer for a free Walmart gift card, a credit union executive tells Information Security Media Group. Once the members responded, by inputting a number on their telephone or mobile device keypad, they were directed to somone "with a heavy accent" who requested the members provide credit card information in order to receive the free gift card.

The credit union call center, which had no record of any of these calls, later determined that the members had apparently misdialed the institution's 800 number and instead dialed similar numbers that had been purchased by fraudsters feigning to be from the credit union.

"The scammers appear to have intentionally set up their scam on phone numbers directly below and directly above the [credit union's] main number," which is publicly accessible from the credit union's website, the executive says.

After investigating the reported events, the credit union found five numbers that were only one digit off from the numbers it uses for its branch and call center were directed to fraudulent answering services offering everything from free gift cards to cruises in exchange for credit and debit card information.

Scams Targeting Phone Banking Rising

Fraud expert Avivah Litan, an analyst for consultancy Gartner, says institutions can expect attacks that exploit the call center to increase. As banks and credit unions have increased investments to shore up defenses surrounding their online banking platforms, fraudsters have taken aim at the call center, she says.

"These types of scams are growing and are part a mega billion-dollar fraud problem," Litan says.

Matt Anthony, a vice president at voice biometrics firm Pindrop Security, says that over the last eight to nine months, about 14 percent of the company's banking clients have been targeted by this type of attack. The size of banks targeted ranged "from the top 20 down into the mid-range," Anthony says. "Some institutions have multiple numbers under attack."

Mitigating the Threat

The executive at the credit union in the Northwest that was targeted took steps to have the fraudulent call center numbers shut down. The main lesson, he adds: Ensure customers and members know to call their banks or credit unions when something seems amiss with a call-center interaction, or when they suspect suspicious activity.

"I expect this scam is happening against lots of financial institution phone numbers, if surrounding numbers are available for scammers to buy," the executive says.

About the Author

Tracy Kitten

Tracy Kitten

Director of Global Events Content and Executive Editor, BankInfoSecurity & CUInfoSecurity

Kitten was director of global events content and an executive editor at ISMG. A veteran journalist with more than 20 years' experience, she covered the financial sector for 10+ years. Before joining Information Security Media Group in 2010, she covered the financial self-service industry as the senior editor of ATMmarketplace, part of Networld Media. Kitten has been a regular speaker at domestic and international conferences, and was the keynote at ATMIA's U.S. and Canadian conferences in 2009. She has been quoted by, ABC News, and MSN Money.

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