E-mail scam to gain bank info prompts alerts

Published: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2004 at 12:20 a.m.

The first inkling of a problem came at about noon on Jan. 23, when consumer call centers for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. began receiving complaints from consumers alarmed about an e-mail indicating there was a problem with their bank accounts.

The e-mail claimed that Tom Ridge, director of the Department of Homeland Security, had advised the FDIC to suspend all deposit insurance on the recipients' bank accounts due to "suspected violations of the USA Patriot Act." The e-mail further claimed that deposit insurance would be suspended until personal identity, including bank account information, could be verified.

Consumers nationwide were complaining not only to the FDIC call centers in Kansas City, Mo., and Washington, D.C., but also to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Neither the FDIC nor the OCC had sent the e-mail. It was a ruse to gather consumers' personal banking information, possibly for the purpose of raiding their bank accounts, or for identity theft, according to the FDIC, which joined with the OCC in issuing alerts to states and banking associations. Both the FDIC and the FBI began an investigation to try to find the source of the fraudulent e-mail.

"We are still getting calls, so the e-mails are still out there," FDIC spokeswoman Elizabeth Ford said. "Our investigation has tracked the Web sites. The people sending the e-mail had several Web sites and had moved. On Friday, the e-mails originated in Pakistan. On Saturday they were sent from Taiwan."

The FDIC has heard that some consumers provided the information requested in the message, Ford said.

"We're encouraging people who get the e-mail not to provide the information and to immediately contact their bank," Ford said. "People should not provide personal, financial information in response to unsolicited requests, no matter how legitimate they appear."

The Florida Bankers Association, which also issued an alert to its members, said it has received reports that customers at a couple of the banks in Tallahassee had reported receiving the bogus message.

"This is just one more example of the lengths criminals will go to steal your personal information and identity," said Florida Bankers Association CEO Alex Sanchez. "It's shameful that criminals would take advantage of a person's concern for our nation's security and use that to try to steal their identity and money . . ."

Tom Gallagher, who oversees Florida's Department of Financial Services, warned that e-mail scams such as this one often involve elaborate impersonations, including complete copies of Web sites, corporate logos, letterheads and other official-looking documents.

"Financial institutions and consumers should not access the link provided in the e-mail," Gallagher said.

Report receipt of the e-mail to the FDIC by calling toll free, (877) 275-3342, or by forwarding it to alert@fdic.gov.

Doris Chandler can be reached at (352) 374-5094, chandld@gvillesun.com.

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