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Written by: Mike Yang

phone-scam-breakdown The first step in protecting against phone scams is understanding how they work. In this series of blog posts, we’re breaking down some of the newest and most popular phone scams circulating among businesses and consumers.
**For more information on how phone fraud affects banks, register for our upcoming webinar, “Bank Fraud Goes Low Tech
The Scam
Imagine that you’re a customer service agent at a banking call center. You receive a call from someone who sounds a bit like a chipmunk. You talk to so many people every day that it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Before you can start helping the customer, you must verify her identity. You ask for the customer’s mother’s maiden name.
“My father was married three times, so can I have three guesses?” replies the customer.
“Of course,” you reply with a smile. She gets it on the third guess – It was Smith.
After that, the customer, who tells you she is recently married, just needs help with a few quick account changes: mailing address and email address. She checks on the account balance and ends the call. You wish all of your calls were this easy.
Here’s What Really Happened
A month later, the newlywed’s account is cleared of money. It turns out, she wasn’t a newlywed after all. She hadn’t changed her address or her email. Instead, the person you spoke to on the phone was an attacker, performing the first steps in an account takeover. After changing the contact information on the account, the attacker got into the customer’s online banking and changed her passwords and PIN numbers. It wasn’t long before the attacker began to steal funds from the account.
It’s called Account Takeover Fraud, but it actually combines several popular scam techniques:

  • Voice Distortion – Attackers have many tools for changing the way their voice sounds over the phone. They may be trying to impersonate someone of the opposite gender, or simply attempting to avoid voice biometric security measures. Less sophisticated attackers sometimes go overboard on this technique and end up sounding like Darth Vadar or a chipmunk.
  • Social Engineering –Think of social engineering as old-fashioned trickery. Attackers use psychological manipulation to con people into divulging sensitive information. In this scam, the attackers acted friendly, and jokingly asked for extra guesses on the Knowledge Based Authentication (KBA) questions.
  • Reconnaissance – Checking an account balance for a customer may seem like a low-risk activity. But this is exactly the type of information that an attacker can use in later interactions to prove their fake identity. Pindrop research shows that only 1 in 5 phone fraud attempts is a request to transfer money. Banks that recognize these early reconnaissance steps in an account takeover can often stop the attack months ahead of time.

Account Takeover Fraud in the News
In Wake of Confirmed Breach at Home Depot, Banks See Spike in PIN Debit Card Fraud – Home Depot was quick to assure customers and banks that no debit card PIN data was compromised in the break-in. Nevertheless, multiple financial institutions contacted by this publication are reporting a steep increase over the past few days in fraudulent ATM withdrawals on customer accounts.
Account Takeovers Can Be Predicted – Apart from collecting publicly available information about the victim, generally posted on social networking websites, cybercriminals resort to contacting call centers in order to find something that would help in their nefarious activities.
Time to Hang Up: Phone Fraud Soars 30% – Phone scammers typically like to work across sectors in multi-stage attacks. This could involve calling a consumer to phish them for bank account details and/or card numbers; then using those details to call their financial institution to pass identity checks and thus effect a complete account takeover.
**For more information on how phone fraud affects banks, register for our upcoming webinar, “Bank Fraud Goes Low Tech