By FLINT McCOLGAN
For at least the third year in a row, a new scam attempting to fraudulently gain unsuspecting banking customer's financial information over the phone has hit North Dakota.
This time a robotic voice recording claims to be a notice from Gate City Bank that "regrets to inform you" that your credit or debit card has been frozen, prompting the listener to press a button and enter their account information to unfreeze their account. As of Monday afternoon, Minot Central Dispatch estimates that around 40 people have called in to report the scam over the weekend.
"This phishing event started, I believe, last Sunday, Feb. 23, and it is going on longer than we have previously experienced," said Maureen Jelinek, the executive vice president and director of operations for the bank, in an interview.
"What they have are robo-callers, so they just automatically dial every number there is," said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem in an interview. "Right now they're working on numbers with 701 area codes."
Stenehjem's office believes that the scam calls originate overseas because many of the calls are coming in the middle of the night, suggesting that the origin is well outside this time zone. One person informed this reporter that his mobile phone was called at 2:30 a.m.
"No legitimate bank is going to call you in the middle of the night," Stenehjem said.
Jelinek said that the calls are randomly generated and some people have been called more than once. The calls come to mobile phones, home phones, and even office phones. Jelinek herself has been called and she said that several local Gate City Bank locations have received the calls throughout North Dakota and western Minnesota.
Due to the bank's presence in this area, Jelinek said the scammers picked the bank because of the higher probability of reaching actual bank customers in this region.
In what Stenehjem is calling a "new twist" on the old "security alert" phishing scams, the scammers are able to "spoof" the legitimate phone number of the bank to further trick the customers. But still, if the customer keeps one fact in mind then they won't be tricked.
"Your bank will never call and ask you for that type of information," Jelinek said.
The best advice is that you should hang up if you receive one of these calls. If you did provide your financial information then you should call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357 and a Gate City Bank representative by looking up the bank's legitimate phone number or by visiting one of their locations in person.
Jelinek said that the bank has been working with customers affected by the scam, even crediting accounts for monetary losses due to the fraud.