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Y2K fraud

November 13, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

A nice-sounding man or woman calls and tells you that your bank is behind on its Y2K preparation. But it can ensure your funds will be safe by transferring your money to a special account protected from Y2K glitches.

All you need to do is verify that you're the account holder by providing some personal information, the helpful man or woman says.

The request for account numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information should sound an alarm that the caller is not from your bank, consumer advocates warn. Banks don't call customers and ask for that kind of information, they say.

That's the ruse of scam artists, who are expected to exploit ignorance or fear of the Y2K problem in their new pitches to get personal information they can use to steal from you or even assume your identity.

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Credit card companies, including Capital One and Citibank, have included inserts in their bills alerting customers to possible Y2K-related fraud attempts.

The Better Business Bureau Web site warns of a number of "common Y2K scams," ranging from requests for information from supposed bank or credit card company representatives to sales of "book safes," real books with cutouts where consumers can safely hide cash to avoid Y2K-related bank problems.

While seemingly aboveboard because you get the product you order, the sale could be a setup for a later burglary of your home and the valuable-filled book, the BBB site warns.

In a scam to get credit card information, someone posing as a representative from your credit card company calls and claims the company is sending out a Y2K remedy for customers' cards, according to the site.

They just need to get your credit card account number for verification before they can send out the replacement strips, or "red dots," you need to stick over the magnetic strip on the back of your card, they say.

Another possible scam, targeting mainly senior citizens, involves a caller posing as a federal government employee, according to the BBB site.

The consumer is told that, because of Y2K, seniors won't get their Social Security checks and their paper money won't be good.

The caller then advises the consumer to turn their assets into paper money and mail it all to him so he can convert it into gold and mail it back.

Another scam involves telephone service, according to the BBB site.

The caller claims to be with one of the Bell companies and explains that, because of Y2K, the phone company is converting to a new computer system and needs to verify all your phone numbers.

The scam artist uses that information to switch your long-distance service.

If Y2K scam artists are preying on Tri-State residents, few have reported being bilked or even approached with the timely tactic, according to the attorneys general offices in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office has heard about a lot of Y2K scam attempts in the state through reporters passing along what their readers, viewers and listeners have told them, said Deputy Press Secretary Barbara Petito.

However, no one yet has filed a fraud complaint with a Y2K angle, Petito said.

"Whether it's real-live scams happening or urban legend, I can't tell you," she said.

There are always complaints about callers trying to get the consumer to give out checking or savings account numbers, credit card numbers and expiration dates, Social Security numbers and other personal information, Petito said.

While the object stays the same, how scam artists go about convincing consumers to give out the information changes, she said.

"The Y2K bug may be the latest tactic," Petito said.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Rebecca Bowman said she guesses there has been some Y2K-related fraud in the state. But there's really no way to find out if fraud complaints to her office stem from Y2K-related scams, Bowman said.

The Consumer Protection Division of the West Virginia Attorney General's office has been fielding questions from consumers about Y2K, said Scott Adkins, a field representative in Charleston, W.Va.

Consumers want to know how the millennium bug could affect things like personal banking, investment and travel, Adkins said.

So far, there haven't been any complaints about Y2K scams to the office, which fields about 150,000 calls and 7,500 to 10,000 written complaints annually, he said.

The office has been alerting consumers to potential Y2K scams through its regular educational programs about fraud and its Web site, Adkins said.

"We think it's important to educate people that the possibility is there," he said.

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