Islanders and bank targeted in a new telephone scam
The phone rings, maybe in early afternoon, maybe a few minutes before midnight. A computer generated voice, several generations behind current voice generating technology, offers a digitalized "Hello," and pitches directly into an ominous message. "This is a message from Martha's...Vineyard...Savings...Bank. Your card has been suspended. For verification to reactivate your card, please press one, and you will be transferred to the security department."
It is all a sophisticated scam, intended to trick Island residents into transmitting sensitive information about their bank accounts. Those who continued further with the recorded message were asked to key in their account number, card expiration date, and personal identification number (PIN). Anyone who did, heard the numbers read back by a recorded voice with a vaguely British accent, and was asked to verify that the numbers were correct. At the end of the process, they got an official sounding confirmation.
"Your card has been reactivated. "Thank you for your time. Goodbye."
It is impossible to confirm how many Vineyard homes received the bogus calls last Thursday and Friday. But local police departments were swamped with reports of the scam, and he Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank fielded many inquiries. The Martha's Vineyard Times received many reports of the calls, and received at least 10 of the scam calls on various numbers in its Vineyard Haven newsroom early Friday afternoon.
Some knew immediately it was a scam. "No bank is going to call you at midnight," said Rob Gatchell of Oak Bluffs, who got the call at 11:51 last Thursday night. "There's no savings account that's that much of an emergency."
Yet others, even the most cautious of consumers, were nearly fooled by the official sounding message.
Niki Patton, who operates a computer consulting company called User Friendly, often advises her clients on various computer scams. She had just opened an account at the Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank, so the recorded message seemed like it might be legitimate at first.
"I was ready to go," said Ms. Patton. "It's rare that something is good enough that I might punch into it. Some intuitive thing in my head said wait a minute."