By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – “You are a big winner in our lottery,” the email reads. But, if you fall for that line, you may be a big loser.
Yalobusha County residents are getting email notices from all over the world stating that they have won a lottery. Don’t believe it, local bank officials warn.
“If you win a lottery you didn’t enter, something is wrong,” said Bill Taylor, Community Bank President for Renasant Bank.
In some cases, victims are instructed to send processing fees which range from as little as $15 to as much as $5000. In other cases, victims receive counterfeit cashier’s checks through the mail. They are told to cash the check and then send the processing fee. In all cases, the victim has to repay the amount of the bogus check or face possible fraud charges.
Cyber criminals are also using email to attempt to get personal information that can be used to steal the victim’s identity or empty their bank account. There are many variations, but the most common warn that the victim’s bank account, debit card or credit card needs a security check or updating.
Taylor said that his bank would never send an email asking for private information. “We’ll send a letter or phone a customer asking them to come by the bank.”
The same is true for Regions Bank, according to Kim Wallis, manager of the local branch. “We don’t ask for information over the phone. We ask the customer to come in.”
Regions customers are currently experiencing an increase in fraud schemes known as “phishing”, according to the Regions web site. In computing, phishing is defined as an attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
While phishing has typically been associated with unsolicited emails, the new scams are using email in combination with phone messages and toll-free numbers in their attempts to steal personal and financial information from unaware consumers, the warning message on the Regions site continues.
Deputy Eddie Foster, Yalobusha County CrimeStoppers Coordinator, provided a copy of the bogus Regions email to the Herald. A web site linked in the email has been flagged as a suspected web forgery and warns that the site is being used for possible identify theft or other fraud.
Since their site has been blocked, the criminals have switched to another technique. They are now sending emails that claim Regions Bank customers need to call a telephone number to have their debit card blocked outside the US. When the number is called, a recorded male voice asks for the caller’s debit card number, expiration date and pin number – all the information criminals need to spend your money.
Identify theft is on the increase with holiday shopping. Eddie Ray, President of Mechanics Bank, said that much of it involves credit cards and checkbooks stolen during trips into metropolitan areas. He warns to be careful about leaving purses and wallets in parked vehicles.
Water Valley Police Chief Mike King suggests that consumers have proper identification – preferably with a photo. He adds that merchants should carefully check the ID of anyone paying with a check.
While many of these frauds take advantage of law-abiding people, there are others in which the victim takes an active – and not so innocent – role. One example that has surfaced locally is passing counterfeit money orders or cashiers checks.
Kimberly Buford, Bank Secrecy Act Compliance Officer for Mechanics Bank said that attempting to pass bogus money orders or checks is a felony. “People don’t seem to understand that they could go to jail,” she added
The way this scam works is that an outsider will come to town and offer a portion of the money to anyone willing to cash the counterfeits. Greed overcomes good sense and a normally law-abiding person becomes a criminal.
Lynn Morris, of Mechanics Bank customer service, said if you suspect that your have been the victim of any of these scams, call your bank. “We’re here to help you.”
Some suggestions on how to protect yourself from fraud:
• Never give out information over the telephone unless you initiate the call and know whom you are calling. Always protect your personal financial information.
• Ignore unsolicited e-mails of all types. The best thing to do is just delete them. And, never send sensitive information by email.
• Don’t give in to greed, since greed is the element that allows one to be ‘hooked’. Experts warn that if it sounds to good to be true, it probably isn’t.
• If you have been defrauded, report it to law enforcement authorities — many frauds go unreported, due to shame, guilty feelings or embarrassment.
“Crime Stoppers attempts to deter all criminal activities, including cyber crimes. If anyone has information about any of these crimes, please call Yalobusha County CrimeStoppers at 1-833-966-TIPS,” said Deputy Foster.
Tips can also be sent via email to TIPS@YalobushaCounty.net.
All letters, calls and emails will remain in the strictest confidence. (No phone calls or emails can be traced.) You may be able to collect up to $1,000 for your confidential information, according to Foster