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Hackers’ fake bank deposit makes their con appear real

An interesting twist on a common scam happened recently to an Albuquerque couple. It involved two of their bank accounts. And it almost worked.

Picture this: You get a phone call supposedly from Publishers Clearinghouse, saying you have just won $387,000. There’s a $1,500 upfront cost, but if you provide your checking account number, they’ll deposit the entire amount of money for you so you can quickly pay it. (This is somewhat unusual because most scamsters will say they’re sending something less than the entire upfront cost.)

In any case, you do reveal your checking account number. Next, they want you to repay them by purchasing a prepaid card. Before doing so, you check with your bank and it confirms that the money has indeed just been deposited. But your spouse starts getting worried and goes to the bank to find out where that deposit came from.

Is it:

A) Publisher’s Clearinghouse.

B) Nigeria.

C) Your savings account.

Hard to believe, but the correct answer is C. Somehow the con artist had gained access to the couple’s savings account, then used the required secret password and last four digits of one of their Social Security numbers to transfer money from the savings account into the couple’s checking account. Both accounts were at the same bank.

The couple had no idea how their information was stolen, but they’re lucky because they could have seen their bank accounts drained.

Reminder: never give out your bank account numbers unless you’re dealing with a family member or someone you know you can trust.

Mobile devices are increasingly scam targets as more people use smartphones to access the Internet, the Better Business Bureau says.

One version involves “ransomware,” a type of computer virus that can infect your phone and cause it to lock up. It starts with your phone freezing and a screen appearing, saying your phone “is locked due to the violation of the federal laws.” You might see the name or logo of a local law-enforcement agency. The catch is that to regain access to your device, you must put several hundred dollars on a prepaid debit card and enter the PIN. Just like that, your money will disappear.

Here are some ways to protect your cellphone:

  • Treat it as you would a computer. Protect it with a passcode and virus protection software and be careful what you download.
  • Watch out for scams disguised as apps. Be sure to download apps through the official app store, stay clear of discontinued apps and make sure to read the user reviews.

Something new to worry about: Hackers are using security vulnerabilities in hotel Wi-Fi to steal people’s passwords and other private information. In certain cases, hotel guests have gotten a pop-up for a software update when they tried to log on to the free Wi-Fi.

“When you click to accept the download, you unknowingly load software designed to damage your computer or steal your information,” the Federal Trade Commission said in a fraud alert. “… consider whether you absolutely must share your login info over the Wi-Fi network. Weigh for yourself whether it’s worth the risk.”

If you decide to go ahead, log in or send personal information only to encrypted websites. (Look for https in the web address – the “s” stand for secure.)

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.