Methods for stealing an individual's identity are growing increasingly sophisticated. This is especially true as technology advances encourage the banking, business and healthcare industries to store and transfer larger amounts of personal information via database systems. The need for tighter security measures has led businesses and individuals alike to devote more attention and resources to protecting identifying information. However, as security gets tighter, criminals get smarter. The newest trend in identity theft involves a spin-off of phishing into a method known as "smishing."
The new process involves sending "bank" text alerts to consumers informing them of account issues in an attempt to trick them into revealing account information, CBS affiliate WBBM reports. The message may inform the customer that their account has been locked or they are running low on funds and provides them with a number to call to resolve the issue, the news station reports. When consumers call the number, many unknowingly reveal their account information.
Chicago Better Business Bureau president and CEO Steve Bernas attributes the new trend in identity theft to the growing popularity of banking alert messages.
"They can act on it within seconds," Bernas told the news station. "It's the new medium for them, and the scam artist picked up on it, and we get calls every day," he added.
One woman, Tina Chapa, received one of the fake text alerts, but provided a false account number when she called, saving herself from a possible case of theft, the news station said. Chapa described the event by stating that once a consumer calls the number, it "takes your number and hangs up on you," she told the CBS affiliate.
Targets of the scam do not have to be enrolled in a bank text message alert program and many criminals choose victims by trolling for random cell phone numbers to contact, Bernas told the station.
Most businesses and banks discourage consumers from responding to emails or text messages regarding account issues. Email phishing is another popular scam utilized by criminals to retrieve an individual's private or bank account information. Both phishing and smishing scams are used to manipulate or frighten consumers into divulging identifying data. As a protection measure, individuals who receive such messages should contact their banks directly to ensure the information is legitimate. The number of Americans who fall victim to identity theft each year has grown to 11 million.