Local residents targeted by fraudulent text messages

They claim to be from Wells Fargo Bank, seek credit card numbers

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Local residents say they’ve been getting text messages claiming to be from Wells Fargo Bank and asking them for their credit card numbers.

A Woodland woman, 65, said she received a text message Saturday, saying her credit card account had been deactivated and asking her to call a phone number.

When she called, she was asked to type in her credit card number. She didn’t.

“I hung up,” she said.

When she mentioned the scam at work, two co-workers said their families had received the same text message — and said they have no accounts with Wells Fargo.

The Woodland woman said she does bank with Wells Fargo, but the message appeared on her new cell phone, which has a new number the bank would not be aware of.

She said she’s concerned that elderly targets of the scam might give up their credit card numbers and become victims of identity theft.

Another reader of The Columbian called last week to report getting a similar text message, except it said his Wells Fargo credit card account had been opened.

The man, 72 and a retired teacher who lives in the McLoughlin Heights area, said he has no Wells Fargo account.

He said he went to a Wells Fargo branch and was told it was a scam. He said another person was in the bank reporting the same problem.

A regional spokesman for Wells Fargo in Portland, Tom Unger, told KATU TV News in late August that people should shun such calls, which can be made using randomly generated phone numbers.

“We have been informed by a number of our customers in the last two days that they have received automated calls asking them for personal identification information,” Unger said. “These calls are fraudulent and customers should ignore them.”

Scams like this also have been reported recently in other states.

They are considered phishing scams, in which the sender claims falsely to be representing a large legitimate corporation or agency and seeks personal information. The scams can be sent out as emails, postal mail, phone calls and other ways.

Phishing by text message, via SMS (Short Message Service), is called smishing, said David J. Kennedy, a Wells Fargo spokesman.

He said it’s “an industrywide problem and these types of email and text messages are randomly sent by fraudsters.”

He added: “Generally, fraudsters don’t know if people they send phish messages to are Wells Fargo customers. They simply hope that a percentage of their messages will be received by actual customers.”

When sending out their scams in emails, crooks generally have to copy business logos and type styles to make them look legit. With text messages, they needn’t bother.

Other Columbian readers recently have reported receiving scam pitches claiming to represent other large banks, the Social Security Administration, Publishers Clearing House, the U.S. government and a large insurance company.

Other scams

Still common these days are scams saying someone won big bucks in a sweepstakes. And bogus job offers are being posted on Craigslist and in other classified ads, designed to extract money from people desperate to find work.

And there’s old faithful, the grandson scam, in which crooks call elderly targets and claim falsely to be their grandson. The callers generally say they’ve been in a car crash, are in jail or have another emergency and ask “grandpa” or “grandma” to wire them money by Western Union or MoneyGram. Such crooks have been known to put another person on the line, who poses as a police officer who arrested the “grandson.”

The grandson scammers must be cashing in occasionally, because they’ve been calling Clark County residents for several years. But many other intended victims have unmasked the callers by asking a few trick questions such as “How tall are you?” or “Where do your parents live?”

A 71-year-old Salmon Creek woman called Thursday to report fending off a phony grandson caller. When told a reporter was writing a story about the text message scam, she said she and her roommate were targets of that one, too.

“We got those, too,” she said. “Both of us got those on our cell phones, just in the last couple weeks.”

Wells Fargo itself has warned its customers of a variety of similar scams claiming to be from them.

“Wells Fargo guarantees that its customers will be reimbursed for 100 percent of the funds in their Wells Fargo account in the unlikely event that someone the customer has not authorized removes those funds through Wells Fargo Online or Wells Fargo Business Online,” Kennedy said. “Customers are responsible for protecting their password and account information and for providing prompt notification of an unauthorized transaction.”

To learn more, visit Wells Fargo’s Web page at https://www.wellsfargo.com/privacy_security/fraud/operate/emails.

John Branton: 360-735-4513; Twitter: col_cops; john.branton@columbian.com.