I teach my kids that people are generally kind. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I'm a bit naive, but I choose to live this way.
I know it's not all rainbows and unicorns. There are bad people in this world. So I teach my kids to be skeptical, too. It's a good thing to know when to raise your shields.
One morning, someone tried to scam me over the phone. An automated voice told me there was suspicious activity on my Visa card.
"Press '1' to be connected to an agent."
Yellow alert. Raise shields.
I pressed "1"; a man answered. He sounded official. Said there was a $600 charge that looked suspicious.
"I just need you to verify some information and we can proceed," he said.
"Can you tell me what vendor the charge is from?" I asked.
"Yes, but for security reasons, I need to verify your identity. Can you tell me the first and last name on your credit card, please?"
"I'm just going to login to my account first and see if it's in my pending transactions."
"You won't find it there, not yet, because we've flagged it as suspicious. But it might appear on your next statement."
A bit weird. He read aloud my telephone number. Asked me to confirm if this was correct.
I squinted my eyes. "I can understand your security needs. But I'm sure you can understand my need to know you're actually from Visa."
"Of course. If you can just provide me with the first and last name on your card, we can proceed."
"How can I confirm you're from Visa?" I asked.
He said a string of letters and numbers quickly.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"That's my agent number."
"Can you repeat that, slowly, so I can write it down?"
"Uh, huh," I said, scribbling.
"Hold on ... V-I-S," I repeated.
"V-I-S ... A ... oh, Visa!"
"Ok, Q-W-V-I-S-A-0089. Got it. And your name is..."
"Chris Walker," he said.
"I'm not ready to give you any information 'til I know for sure this is a legit call. How do I do that?"
"You can call the number on the back of your card and ask to speak to an agent," he said confidently.
"Okay," I said. "Do you have a direct number so I can speak with you after, since we've already started this transaction?"
"You can talk to anyone, or you can ask for me."
"All right, Chris. Thank you for your time." I hung up. The benefit of my doubt hung by a thread, but I still wanted to check out his story, just in case.
I got my Visa card. Called the number, followed the prompts. I was connected to an agent.
"How can I help you?" she asked.
"Hi. I got a call supposedly from a Visa fraud line, saying I have a $600 charge that looks suspicious," I said. "I wanted to verify it was Visa calling, so he told me to call the number on the back of my card. So I'm hoping you can help me out."
A few questions and answers back and forth.
"Well, there's a $500 charge," she said.
"Yep, that's okay. For my kids' soccer. I have the guy's agent number and name if that helps."
"Yes. Please give me his agent number."
"W-Q-V-I-S-A-0089. He said his name was Chris Walker."
"Yeah, no—our numbers don't start with that."
"So he was trying to scam me."
"We get this all the time," she said. "It wasn't us. We would never call you that early."
"I can't believe people do this. It's terrible."
"They make so much money scamming people."
"Well, I'm glad I didn't give him any information."
We continued our conversation. She said she was obligated to tell me my bank can use voice recognition software to analyze my voice, as an additional security feature. Apparently, fraudsters call credit-card call centres, posing as customers. They try to extract people's personal information this way.
"Would you like to use this service?" she asked.
"Is it free?"
"Sure," I said. I thanked her and hung up.
The nerve of these fraudsters! They are not kind. But that doesn't change my optimistic outlook.
I will continue to teach my kids that people are generally kind. And it's a good practice to take them at face value, until they give you reason not to.
It's also very important to teach my kids it's not all rainbows and unicorns, too.
If you get a call like this, just hang up. Better yet, if you don't recognize the number, let it go to voicemail. If it's important, they can leave a message.
Apparently, there's an even more sophisticated phone scam out there. The scammer targets landlines. He says you've been a victim of credit card fraud and tells you to hang up and call 911 or your financial institution. So you hang up and think you've been disconnected. You dial 911 or your bank, thinking you're talking to them, but you're still connected to the original call, speaking to another fraudster. Then you give them your personal information.
Depending on your provider, there's a lag between when you hang up and when you're actually disconnected.
When I heard about this, I got all paranoid. When I called my bank, was I actually speaking to them? I'm quite sure, there were prompts asking me to choose English or French ...
To make sure, I called my bank again a few days later. I asked them if they had a record of my call with them. Yes, they did. Good. Peace of mind.
So if you ever decide to call your financial institution after receiving a fraudulent phone call, make sure you wait at least a minute after hanging up on the scammer!
Some helpful links about credit card fraud