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Security & privacy

New cellphone scam to watch out for can cost you thousands

Our battle against scammers is ever-changing. Criminals continuously change their patterns and they constantly think of loopholes to exploit and ingenious ways to snare their next victim.

For instance, there’s a new elaborate cellphone scam spreading that can literally cost you thousands of dollars. Here’s a hint: If someone on the phone asks you for your account verification code, please don’t comply — it’s most likely a scammer waiting to strike.

Can you just imagine the damage that could be done if a scammer is able to make changes to your account? Read on and learn how to protect yourself from this emerging scam.

New sneaky cellphone scam you need to know about

Authorities in Florida are now cautioning people about an emerging ploy where scammers are taking over accounts and attempting to purchase expensive phones under the account holder’s name.

Police in Clearwater, Florida, said that two scammers, identified as Ah’jhzae Diamondric Artag Berry and Keith Ramsey, scammed two victims and attempted to buy brand new phones under the victims’ accounts at a local Verizon store.

Ramsey reportedly tried to walk away with two $1,200 iPhone XS Max phones on March 26 while Berry tried to buy a single $1,250 smartphone on March 21.

Thankfully, in both cases, the Verizon store quickly realized what was happening and notified the police. The suspected scammers were arrested while they were still in the store.

But how did the scammers nearly pull it off? How come they have the would-be victims’ account details?

How this devious scam works

Here’s how they planned it out. This scam, although it seems to be elaborate, is similar to simple man-in-the-middle attacks:

  1. The scammer, armed with information gathered from the dark web, social media sites or phishing scams, calls you directly to warn you of possible fraud on your cellphone account. In other cases, they will send you an email with a provided “customer service” phone number so you can call them back.
  2. Posing as a customer service representative, the scammer will then tell you over the phone that they want to check your account for evidence of fraud. (Oh, the irony.)
  3. They will tell you that they sent you a verification code (via text message) and you will have to read back that code to them. However, unknown to you, the scammer is already attempting to log in to your account on your carrier’s website and has actually asked it to send you the verification code.
  4. That verification code is the last piece the scammer needs to log in to your account. Once you read it out to them, they will now have full access to your account. With this access, they can do all sorts of damage like changing your account password and settings, adding lines and family members, and buying phones under your name.
  5. Since their names are now added to your account, the scammers can walk into a store, use their own IDs to request new lines and buy phones on your account. They’ll have to pay the taxes outright on the new phones but the full price of the new phones will be charged to you. No bueno.

How to protect yourself from this scam

First order of business, monitor your account frequently and keep your eye out for unauthorized charges, especially new line and device activations.

Another thing to keep in mind is that companies like Verizon will never ask for your authorization codes over the phone. In fact, Verizon explicitly warns that it will “never contact you for this code.”

Another way to avoid falling victim to these types of scams is to add a PIN code to your smartphone carrier account. Aside from two-factor authentication, this will add a third layer of protection that the scammer won’t have access to.

There are a few ways to set up your PIN code with Verizon. The easiest is to visit and set up your PIN. You can also set one up by visiting a Verizon store or calling the company at 1-800-922-0204.

However, be careful. Like verification codes, scammers may pretend to be customer service reps and ask for your PIN code, too. Before you give out your PIN code, make sure you’re talking to a real Verizon rep by calling their official number directly.


Verizon’s response

We reached out to Steve Van Dinter, U.S. Local Area Communications spokesperson for Verizon, and here’s the company’s official statement:

“In general, as people share more or their information online, instances of identity theft and identity fraud have increased. This is true not just for the wireless industry but also many other industries.

As wireless devices have become more sophisticated, their value has increased significantly. According to the FCC, millions of dollars are lost each year due to subscriber fraud, which occurs when someone signs up for wireless service with fraudulently obtained customer information or false identification. Fraud and identity theft impact our customers financially, forcing them to spend considerable time and effort cleaning up their credit and identity.

We recognize that the privacy and security of information is of paramount importance to our customers. Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality that bad actors are always looking for ways to engage in fraud and identity theft. With private customer information in-hand, they defraud banks, retailers, non-profits and more.

As fraudsters gather more private information from the dark web and create more authentic looking fake identification, our teams at Verizon are always working to stop these criminals who impact about 7,000 customers every month.

If a Verizon customer suspects fraud for any reasons, they should immediately contact Customer Service at (800) 922-0204.”

Keep in mind that Verizon customers are most likely not the only targets of this emerging scam. Similar attacks on other carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are inevitable so please always be on guard.

Bonus podcast: Personal data vulnerable in cheap phones

You get what you pay for. The moment you turn on that new cheap phone you bought, malware and spyware in pre-installed apps start grabbing your personal data. Learn more about this in this free Komando Consumer Tech Update podcast.

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