Be careful:

Published 2:37 pm Friday, January 28, 2011

Be careful about whom you talk to over the telephone about your bank account.

That’s an old warning and a fairly standard one, but it’s significance seems to grow with each passing day.

Wednesday night, I received a telephone call on my cell phone. That should have been my first tip that something was wrong, especially when the speaker asked if I was the person with a particular four digits as the last four on a credit card that is also my debit card.

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Initially, I was lulled into by the fact that the caller had those four digits. After all, only my bank and some companies with which I have done business should have that information. As a fly fisherman, fly tier and rod builder, I have to make an awful lot of mail orders from catalogues because there are no local companies, nor any very close, where I can get supplies.

I was angry, though, that the call had come on the cell phone, and while I was at the dinner table. First of all, third party businesses aren’t supposed to be making cold calls to cell numbers, though more and more of them are. Secondly, I was sitting down at the dinner table and the call interrupted a conversation I was having with Genie.

I guess that anger made me a little more alert than I might have been had the call come at some other time, though I hate getting solicitation calls at any time.

The caller did mention that I recently had made a “large purchase” with a credit card ending in those particular four digits and said because of that, I was eligible for some gasoline discount coupons worth $150. With the price of gasoline these days, that did get my attention. The caller also mentioned that it was an organization, to which if I belonged, that offered discounts on other purchases.

The person then mentioned a membership price that I thought was ridiculously high, but hastily added that I could keep the gas coupons. Then came some questions, and she turned me over to another person in the “mail room” with even more questions. The questions the second person asked registered on my fraud radar and I ended the phone call.

I tried calling the 800 number for my bank right away to ask for advice and to alert their fraud division as to what was going on. There, I ran into a machine. I don’t talk to machines, and I couldn’t find a way past this one to a person, so Thursday morning I went to the bank.

Now, that debit card no longer exists. Fortunately, the people at the bank were able to tell me that nothing had occurred on my card overnight, nor since the last time I used it.

To digress a little, one of the reasons I even took the phone call to begin with was that the caller ID on my cell phone showed a number, though not one that I recognized. I don’t answer calls with blocked numbers.

Because the number popped up on my caller ID, it was captured by my cell phone and I was able to give it to the bank, though I doubt the bank was able to do anything about it. The area code, which I looked up immediately after ending the call, indicated the call came from the Comoros Islands in the middle of Indian Ocean, though I wonder if that was really the location from which the calls were being made.

The accents of the two women to whom I talked during the phone call were All-American. Having dealt, or, actually, tried to deal, with people who answer product phone calls when I have a problem with one, I know those calls generally are routed to call centers in foreign countries and often I have a hard time understanding, or being understood by, those folks.

I also gave to the bank the identification of the only companies to which I have given both my credit card number and cell phone number in hopes that someone in its fraud division can track down how that information was obtained. Somehow, I have little faith that will happen. These days bank information and other information that should be protected is too easily accessed, either by being sold to third parties by businesses  with whom one does business or through computer hacking, and through numerous other nefarious methods.

One can but hope that something will be done about such people and organizations, but while the cops can catch a lot of the holdup artists who rob banks with a gun, no one seems to be able to catch these criminals that steal your information and drain your bank account, or at least we seldom hear about it if they do.