FBI looking into phone scam

The breadth and speed of the Internet has made the world a smaller place and that's not always a good thing.

The telephone fraud scam targeting Sequim and Port Angeles residents since December also has hit California, Arizona, New York, Texas and Michigan and may originate in Romania.

Port Angeles Police Officer Duane Benedict said Friday he was compiling a report and turning the case over to the FBI.

The FBI agent he contacted was not aware of an investigation and the federal agency generally doesn't get involved unless the missing amount exceeds $50,000 but he would pass along the information, Benedict said.

"It's beyond us to investigate. We have no manpower or equipment," he said.

The scammers seem to have obtained the phone numbers by hacking into a computer system that uses "Voice over Internet Protocol" to make phone calls via computer (Vonage, for example).

Hijacked call center

"A guy in Michigan has a computerized call center and his server was hijacked. So it's his number showing up on Caller ID," he said.

The Michigan victim began investigating by tracing the Internet protocol addresses of the hijackers, then he called the FBI there, Benedict said.

"They hit the same type of business in California and that owner's a little irritated, he's hot. He received three calls in 30 seconds when I was talking to him and that was just his phone number.

"He said they've hit every one of his numbers and server systems. It's happening in Arizona, too."

Benedict said these scams aren't anything new.

"They target smaller communities and banks and

credit unions because they often are not quite as savvy.

"If they get even a hundred people out of a few thousand, it's worth their while.

"I've already heard one person lost $3,000 but I don't know the total losses. They are targeting debit cards, too."

Money to Romania?

Some of the fraudulent withdrawals may be going to Romania, so some banks are blocking any of those transactions until they can be confirmed, Benedict said.

"Hopefully banks are taking a real proactive approach. If there's purchases by someone spread across the country, I'm hoping they block those until they can confirm them.

"These guys are really quick. If you give out your information, it takes about 15 minutes for a withdrawal."

Benedict said the California man he spoke with thinks a terminated employee might be behind the scheme.

"He's trying to get the police there to arrest the guy. He could be right. He told me, 'I know exactly how they are doing it. (The former employee) could do that same thing.'"

In December 2009, the district attorney in Yolo County northwest of Sacramento, Calif., warned of cell phone text messages that told people to call a number and "verify" or "reactivate" their accounts.

In February 2010, a Romanian citizen was sentenced to seven months in a Connecticut prison for providing 9,811 e-mail addresses harvested from Web sites to be used in a similar scheme.

If vishes were phishes

"Phishing" is sending an e-mail with what appears to be a link to a legitimate bank and asking the person to click on it and enter personal information.

"Vishing" or "Voice Phishing" is hijacking a legitimate business' "Voice over Internet Protocol" telephone system (Vonage, for example) then using it to trick people into giving out personal information.

"Voice Phishing" is similar to "phishing" except instead of being asked to click on an e-mail link and provide personal information, the person is asked to call a fraudulent phone number.

"Smishing" or "SMS Phishing" is the same scam conducted by sending a text message to your cell phone.

Reach Brian Gawley at

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