It comes as no surprise to any of us that thieves are smarter than they used to be. This week I got a lesson in just how smart, and the implications of it frankly, well, freaked me out.
An employee in The Facts’ business office emailed me to ask if I had been texting her from a number that wasn’t mine. No, I said. Why?
Well someone had, she said, and they were using my name.
Similar things have happened before, with people cloning social media accounts and sending messages to friends in the names of people who really are their friends. And crooks have cloned email accounts, as well. This, to me, seemed more sophisticated.
This employee and I are not friends on social media. I don’t even have her cell phone number saved in my phone, though she might have mine. My number is not listed on any social media accounts that I or the newspaper hold. Yet somehow a crook had linked us, probably because we work together, and sent her a message from a random number that read “Jennifer, Available? — Yvonne Mintz.”
Of course, she responded. It was the middle of a work day, after all.
The reply from “me” explained that “I” was in a meeting and unable to make a call but that I needed her to do a quick task for me.
Sounds pretty legit, right? She thought so too.
“I” asked her to go find the nearest Apple Store and buy “me” some gift cards. She responded that the nearest was at Baybrook Mall, and then I guess she got suspicious, since it’s highly unlikely I would send her out of Brazoria County to buy gift cards, particularly during Shop Local season.
Imagine if we did have an Apple Store, though? Or if the thief instead would have named a store at Brazos Mall, which is a Shop Local Shop Strong partner? We have purchased dozens of gift cards in the past month as part of the campaign.
Luckily, the employee listened to her gut and reached out to me. She blocked the number and we lost nothing.
I reported the incident to our company’s technology leaders, who tell me this kind of thing is very common, either by email spoof or text messaging. They almost always ask for gift cards to major brands like Apple or Amazon because they can quickly liquidate them via a transaction that is virtually untraceable.
Thieves are more sophisticated these days. That means we need to be more suspicious than ever.
Don’t take direction to buy gift cards unless the person asks in person or in a voice you know and recognize. If the voice sounds different, the person can easily blame that on a stuffy nose or sore throat. Hang up and contact that person through a number you do know. If the scam or request comes by email, don’t reply. Start a new message with the person’s email address from your address book.
And if a request seems out of character, as this one did, trust your gut and don’t respond.
In the words of a colleague whose technology advice I trust, it’s simple: Don’t trust. Always verify.
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