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Cell phone texting operation targeted credit union's customers

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| March 2, 2009 11:00 PM

Multiple Lincoln County residents received a cell phone text message last Wednesday and Sunday that is part of a scam to obtain personal banking information, law-enforcement officials confirmed.

Wednesday’s message purported to be from Montana Credit Union, claiming that the recipient’s bankcard or pin number had been deactivated. It supplied a Montana phone number to call to re-activate the card.

Sunday’s message claimed to be from Mountain West Bank, supplying an 800 number for recipients to call regarding a “recent restriction” placed on their account.

Upon calling the numbers, an automated message asked for bankcard and pin information.

Libby Police, Eureka Police and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office all received complaints about Wednesday’s text scam and one complaint about Sunday’s text.

Libby Police Officer Brandon Littrell contacted the Billings Police Department after a trace on Wednesday’s text revealed it originated from that city, but the number registered to an empty street corner. Billings Police informed Littrell that a rash of similar incidents occurred in the area, but they were always from 800 phone numbers.  

“This texting scam went to a dead end,” said Libby Chief of Police Clay Coker. “There was nothing there, not even a pay phone. Scammers are masking their locations somehow with text messages and e-mails. This is all just part of the evolution of the scam.”

Montana Credit Union’s website stated that it would never send out a message of that sort, and it urged those who have responded to the text to contact their financial institution for help.

Mountain West Bank also stated on its website that it would never request personal information via e-mail, phone or text message.

Those who have received fraudulent text messages or e-mails in regards to their Mountain West Bank account may e-mail stopfraud@mtnwb.com or call customer support at 800-641-5401.

Coker said the scams are not new. As technology has developed, so have swindlers’ abilities to cheat people out of their money.

“It was the mid-90s before we started seeing this stuff,” Coker said, referring to e-mail and text scams. “It’s just gotten worse and worse over the years.”

Early last month, two Libby residents were victims of a scam of a different sort.

A man called both victims, elderly women, posing as their grandson. The man, who knew their names and the names of their grandsons, claimed he needed money wired to him in Canada because he was hurt in a car accident.

One of the victims sent $2,600, but police were able to cancel the transaction before the man picked up the money.

Coker’s advice?

“Don’t give anyone any money or private information unless you know who they are and you have confirmed it,” he said.