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Scammers are tricking victims and taking over their cellphone accounts, police say

Posted at 8:54 AM, Mar 29, 2019

Police in Florida warn that a new crime trend could allow scammers to charge victims thousands of dollars to their cellphone bills.

In the past few days, police in Clearwater, Florida reported two separate identity theft case — one of which nearly resulted in a suspect charging $2,500 in iPhones to a victim's account.

Here's how the elaborate scam works:

1. The scammer first makes contact with the victim. Scammers will choose their victims by buying their phone number and email address from the dark web or by using a phishing scam. Some will even cold call their victims.

2. The scammer then calls the victim, posing as a customer service representative. He tells the victim that their account has been compromised.

3. The scammer then says that they've sent a verification code to the victim, and they'll need the victim to read that code over the phone. Meanwhile, the scammer uses the victim's phone number and email address to send a legitimate Verizon verification code through Verizon's website.

4. Once the victim reads the verification code to the scammer, he can access the victim's account. At that point, the scammer can add his name to the victim's account, turn off account notifications, and then go to a store location and add a new line and buy a phone, charging it all to the victim.

"They will keep going," Clearwater Police Detective Tim Downes said. "As long as they'll be able to make money off of it, they'll keep going."

Downes says the best way to avoid the scam is to check cellphone accounts often for any unauthorized charges.

It's also important to note that while a cellphone provider may call its customers, they'll never ask for a customer to read an authorization code over the phone. In fact, when Verizon sends an authorization code to its customers, it's sent with the following message: "For the security of your account, Verizon will never contact you for this code."

Finally, Downes suggest setting up a four-digit account pin with Verizon that can used to verify the identity of the account owner whenever visiting a Verizon store or calling the company.

Verizon issued the following statement to Scripps station WFTS in Tampa:

While we cannot speak to specific customer scenarios or comment on an ongoing investigation, in general, as people share more information online, instances of identity theft and identity fraud have increased. This is true not just for the wireless industry but also many other industries. As wireless devices have become more sophisticated, their value has increased significantly. According to the FCC, millions of dollars are lost each year due to subscriber fraud, which occurs when someone signs up for wireless service with fraudulently obtained customer information or false identification. Fraud and identity theft impact our customers financially, forcing them to spend considerable time and effort cleaning up their credit and identity. We recognize that the privacy and security of information is of paramount importance to our customers. Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reality that bad actors are always looking for ways to engage in fraud and identity theft. With private customer information in-hand, they defraud banks, retailers, non-profits and more. As fraudsters gather more private information from the dark web and create more authentic looking fake identification, our teams at Verizon are always working to stop these criminals who impact about 7,000 customers every month. If a Verizon customer suspects fraud for any reasons, they should immediately contact Customer Service at (800) 922-0204.