SMS ATM Theft Warning
Home Scams Warning Claims Criminals Using Stolen Cell Phones to Get Bank Card PINs

Warning Claims Criminals Using Stolen Cell Phones to Get Bank Card PINs

by Brett M. Christensen

This story was first published on September 19, 2013

Outline

Warning message describes a case in which a criminal who stole a woman’s handbag, complete with wallet, bank cards and cell phone, was able to empty her bank account by calling her husband on the stolen cell phone and asking for the card PIN.

Brief Analysis

Versions of the same message have circulated since 2006. The specific case described remains unconfirmed and may have been simply created to give life to the warning. Nevertheless, the tactic described is plausible and the advice in the message is worth heeding.

Example

CELL PHONES

A lady has now changed her habit of how she lists her names on her cell phone after her handbag was stolen. Her handbag, which contained her cell phone, credit card, wallet, etc., was stolen. 20 minutes later when she called her hubby, from a pay phone telling him what had happened, hubby says ‘I received your text asking about our Pin number and I’ve replied a little while ago.’ When they rushed down to the bank, the bank staff told them all the money was already withdrawn. The thief had actually used the stolen cell phone to text ‘hubby’ in the contact list and got hold of the pin number. Within 20 minutes he had withdrawn all the money from their bank account.

Moral lesson:

a. Do not disclose the relationship between you and the people in your contact list. Avoid using names like Home, Honey, Hubby, Sweetheart, Dad, Mom, etc.

b. And very importantly, when sensitive info is being asked through texts, CONFIRM by calling back.

c. Also, when you’re being texted by friends or family to meet them somewhere, be sure to call back to confirm that the message came from them. If you don’t reach them, be very careful about going places to meet ‘family and friends’ who text you.

PLEASE PASS THIS ON

Even if this doesn’t pertain to you….Pass it on to your family and friends. It may be useful.

SMS ATM Theft Warning

 

Detailed Analysis

According to this long circulated warning message, “ladies” would be wise to change the way they list contact names in their cell phones because of a danger that they may not have considered.

The message describes a case in which a woman had her handbag stolen. The bag contained her cell phone, wallet and bank cards. The story claims that the thief then used the contact list on the stolen phone to text the woman’s husband and ask for her card PIN.  Thus armed, the criminal was able to empty her bank account within 20 minutes.

The message advises that people do not list phone contacts in a way that discloses relationships. It also advises that people always verify messages asking for sensitive information by calling back.

Versions of the very same tale have been circulating via email, and, more lately, via social media posts since 2006. The specific case described remains unverified and may have been simply invented as a means of illustrating the potential dangers described in the warning.
Most banks have a daily limit on how much can be withdrawn from an ATM, so unless the balance of the woman’s bank account was less than this limit, the thief would probably not have been able to empty the entire account as claimed.

Moreover, many people would be at least a little leery of sending a PIN or other sensitive information in response to a text message without verifying it first. And depending on how the couple conducted their finances, “hubby” might not even know or remember the PIN. So, this is certainly not a tactic that is always going to work.

Nevertheless, the main points in the warning are worth heeding. The scenario described is at least plausible.  Many people do identify relationships by the way they list cell phone contacts. And, perhaps more so then ever, people are apt to communicate via text messages rather than by voice calls, so it is possible that some users might be tricked into texting back sensitive information as requested.

Therefore, it would be wise to ensure that your phone contact list does not give away too much identifying information. And, certainly, any request for sensitive information received via a text message should be verified before replying.

This version of the message also suggests that you call back to confirm when you receive a text asking you to meet a family member or friend. At face value, this may seem like sound advice, especially if you are asked to meet the person late at night and/or in an isolated area. Certainly, if anything about the text seemed unusual or out of place, then a verification call might well be in order. But, in reality, the average modern family, especially those with teenagers, is likely to organize many pick-ups, meetings, and parental taxi bookings via an endless and ongoing stream of text messages.

As with most scam and security threats, remaining vigilant and applying common sense will go along way towards protecting you.

Importance Notice

After considerable thought and with an ache in my heart, I have decided that the time has come to close down the Hoax-Slayer website.

These days, the site does not generate enough revenue to cover expenses, and I do not have the financial resources to sustain it going forward.

Moreover, I now work long hours in a full-time and physically taxing job, so maintaining and managing the website and publishing new material has become difficult for me.

And finally, after 18 years of writing about scams and hoaxes, I feel that it is time for me to take my fingers off the keyboard and focus on other projects and pastimes.

When I first started Hoax-Slayer, I never dreamed that I would still be working on the project all these years later or that it would become such an important part of my life. It's been a fantastic and engaging experience and one that I will always treasure.

I hope that my work over the years has helped to make the Internet a little safer and thwarted the activities of at least a few scammers and malicious pranksters.

A Big Thank You

I would also like to thank all of those wonderful people who have supported the project by sharing information from the site, contributing examples of scams and hoaxes, offering suggestions, donating funds, or helping behind the scenes.

I would especially like to thank David White for his tireless contribution to the Hoax-Slayer Facebook Page over many years. David's support has been invaluable, and I can not thank him enough.

Closing Date

Hoax-Slayer will still be around for a few weeks while I wind things down. The site will go offline on May 31, 2021. While I will not be publishing any new posts, you can still access existing material on the site until the date of closure.

Thank you, one and all!

Brett Christensen,
Hoax-Slayer