Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fishin' Blues

"We regret to inform you that your Wells Fargo debit card has been suspended."

Chilling words. The caller, a disembodied electronic voice simulating female (is there an app for that?), told me to press one to speak to an operator and reinstate it. I pressed one.

Who doesn't use their debit card to death? In fact, when my cell phone rang I had just pulled my cop car into the Great Harvest Bread lot, intent on a cup of coffee and a scone. I rarely carry more than a dollar or two in cash, and I don't take the check book out of the house. Everything is done with plastic.

So being told my debit card won't work is a serious issue. Once, sitting at Denver International on the way to Cancun, I discovered I'd failed to bring along reading glasses. No worries, a run to the gift shop solved that. When the clerk ran my card it was rejected. Three times. I called the financial institution, and the very nice woman who handles our account said she found a suspicious charge and had suspended use of our cards. She would overnight replacements to the address on our account. Great. We made due with one credit card and got stingy with our cash. Fortunately, we went to an all-inclusive resort at which we are members. The nice folks at Royal Hideaway took fabulous care of us. An especially gracious woman poured our coffee every morning (a rich Mexican brew), taught us some Spanish phrases, told us about the town she lived in....

But, I digress. Yesterday, the marginally feminine robot voice on my phone, juxtaposed with the obviously female voice on the police radio, told me that I needed to provide four pieces of personal information to reinstate my card. First, the last four digits of my social security number. Dammit! I picked up the mike and asked for a case report number. 

I don't have a Wells Fargo debit card. The phone call was a criminal act.

The call was my first encounter with phone phishing. Everyone with e-mail occasionally gets something beginning with "Hello,We want to transfer to overseas the sum of One hundred and Forty Two Million United States Dollars (U.S.$142,000,000.00) from South Africa here. (Great Opportunity)." Although people fall for these scams all of the time, to most of us the stilted language and unbelievable amount of money-for-nothing are a dead givaway.

No financial institution ever contacts its customers and then asks for things like SSNs, passwords or (especially) account numbers. They already have them. It's only when the customer initiates contact will they ask for that information. Even if the customer doesn't have it the bank or credit card company can look it up by name. Same with Paypal, cable companies and the like. Any entity that sends you a trouble e-mail reading some variation of "Please reenter your account number and password" is a collection of crooks, probably similar to the "Peggy" guy on the credit card commercial, only the customer will get much more than a thirty second chuckle. Their activities are illegal, and should be reported to local law enforcement.

Why did they call me if I didn't have a Wells Fargo card? Because most people who don't have one figure it's a wrong number and hang up within the first ten seconds. Wells Fargo customers listen because their debit card is important to them. Some percentage will do what they are instructed to do, only to discover later a nightmare from which they will not awaken.

The bad guys had no idea they were calling the cops on themselves. Of course I had my coffee and scone (blueberry with creme cheese) before I sat down to write the report. I have my priorities.


  1. Superb advice. Like you, I don't carry cash and I use my debit card for everything. And yet, it's great to know that places like BofA and Wells Fargo would never call and ask for that type of pertinent information over the phone. Bad juju! This is a very helpful piece of advice. Thank you.

  2. Even people like me who KNOW it's a scam, who KNOW they would never call me, it still makes my heart stop and takes me a second to think through "this is a scam, they wouldn't call me". We've had people call from Wells Fargo saying there was a problem with our account and my mind always starts racing; did I pay the bill this month, did someone hack it, what's going on?

  3. Patti - Thank you. It's an easy area for crooks, because most people really are good and trusting. And it's so lucrative that smart, rotten people work until they find a flaw in the system.

    Katy - You're absolutely right, they prey on that momentary pause when what you're hearing seems plausable.