Police and a local credit union are spreading the word about a scam that contacted people by text message, claiming to be from a local financial institution.
"As a warning, you should never give your Social Security number or bank account numbers or any other personal information over the phone," state police said in a press release. "Banks will never text or call and ask for this information."
Many North Country residents have reported getting a text Thursday afternoon that claimed to be from Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union, which is based in Tupper Lake and has branches in Plattsburgh and Potsdam. Some of these recipients were not members of the credit union and never had been.
Other people's texts claimed to be from "Adirondack Regional Bank" or "Adirondack Federal Bank," according to state police.
A reverse lookup for the phone number given in the text showed that it came from a landline on Long Island.
One woman's experience
According to Plattsburgh city police, "The most recent scam text may look like this: '(Adirondack Regional FCU- ImportantNotification) Please Call: 516 302 1002 Your Attention Is Requested.'"
That's pretty much exactly what a Saranac Lake woman, who asked not to be named for fear of being further victimized, said she received on her cellphone Thursday afternoon. She called the number, even though she doesn't have an account with the credit union.
"When you call the number," she said, "it says, 'Thank you for calling your 24-hour banker. Your debit card has been limited due to a security error. Please press 1 to reactivate.'"
She said she didn't press 1, but the message continued anyway.
"Whether you press 1 or not, it comes back on - and this is an all an automated voice, not a real voice - and it says, 'To verify your ID, please enter your nine-digit Social Security number," the woman said.
Being suspicious, the woman said she didn't enter her Social Security number.
Instead she reported the incident to state police in Ray Brook and checked her bank accounts, which were fine. She tried calling the credit union's Tupper Lake headquarters, "but all the lines were busy, and by the time I got through it was after 5 o'clock and the credit union was closed."
She called back Friday morning and was told that staff there knew about the scam but hadn't contacted police. She called the credit union's Plattsburgh branch Friday afternoon and was told "they've been swamped with calls up there" and had alerted city police.
She said she wished the credit union had warned Tri-Lakes people sooner.
"They certainly didn't let anyone around here know about it," she said.
Credit union CEO
Cathy Staves, CEO of Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union, was supposed to be on vacation. Nevertheless, she issued the following statement Friday afternoon, on behalf of herself and the board of directors:
"With much regret the Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union acknowledges that a criminal element has been using our name in a recent cell phone texting scam. Please be assured that our system has not been compromised or hacked and no data has been stolen from our system. The evidence points to someone acquiring a cell phone database and we assume this is how they are committing their crimes and fictitiously using our name. We've learned since this has unfolded that members of our financial institution and non-members have been misled into giving out their personal information. Please do not provide any personal information by way of cell phone text, email, or phone calls. This is not a practice of Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union."
Furthermore, Adirondack Regional Federal Credit Union prominently displayed a notice of the scam on its homepage under a red "FRAUD ALERT" headline.
"That was posted early this morning," Staves said Friday.
She said she knows the credit union's computer system wasn't breached because of tests that are run on it several times a day.
"Apparently they got a hold of a list with the 518 area code and used our name," she said of the scammers. "Where they got the list, I don't know."
Texts were received in a two-hour period Thursday. "It started roughly around 3 o'clock, and by 5 o'clock it was done," she said, adding that credit union staff told her about it around 4:30 p.m.
Staves said no credit union staff contacted police about the scam, to her knowledge. At that point it seemed like it wouldn't have done any good, she said.
"They're quick, these scams; they're in and out," she said.
She doubts the scammers will be brought to justice.
"They never are, and that's the unfortunate thing," she said. "You're hitting your head against a brick wall."
It seems unfair to have the credit union targeted in this way, Staves said.
"It's very upsetting, and it has nothing to do with us," she said. "They used our name, period. We are at the beginning of the alphabet, if they were going through for credit unions and banks."
Staves said she doesn't know how many people received the fraudulent texts. It's also unclear how many people, if any, were fooled into giving the scammers their personal information. Some did, Adirondack Regional FCU Vice President Amber Cota told Press-Republican reporter Kim Smith Dedam. Dedam herself received one of the fraudulent texts and wrote about it in an article the Press-Republican posted online Friday.
"If a member gave the information out, they should call us or stop in at a branch office," Cota told Dedam. "We will block their debit cards."
"This scam is one form of many," Plattsburgh police warned on their website. "Scammers also contact people through email and phone calls. In another version, scammers call and claim to represent a store like Target, Walmart, Best Buy, etc They ask the person to 'verify' their name, address, social security and other information supposedly to check whether it was compromised.
"Whatever the method," police added, "the scammers are always after the same thing: your credit card number, bank account information or other personal information so they can steal from you."