Utah County woman nearly becomes victim of 'port-out' phone scam

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AMERICAN FORK — A nationwide scam targeting customers of T-Mobile has arrived to Utah. A customer in American Fork says someone “ported” her number, and within minutes, was able to gain control of her bank account and credit card.

“One minute my phone was working and then the next minute, it wasn’t,” said Cristina, who asked that her last name not be mentioned.

Cristina said that within a few minutes of her phone not working on Tuesday afternoon, the scammers were using her number they had ported to a new carrier to attempt to access to her bank and credit card.

“They were able to get online on my accounts ... say I had forgotten my username and passwords and got a code sent to my cell phone,” Cristina said. “So I think it is scary because all of our accounts are tied to our cell phone numbers.”

How does a port-out scam work?

A scammer finds out a person's name and phone number and then attempts to gather as much personal identifiable information (PII) as possible about them, according to a report by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). PII includes name, address, Social Security number and other information that can be used for identity theft. The scammers then will contact the person's mobile provider, impersonating him or her, and inform the mobile provider that the phone was stolen and request the number be “ported” with another provider and device, the BBB report mentioned.

Fraudsters are attempting to compromise personal bank accounts by taking over and transferring phone numbers from one wireless provider to another, according to T-Moblie in a statement on the company's website. It’s a scheme that is affecting the entire wireless industry.

Fortunately, Cristina’s bank sent an email to confirm the money transfer. She called her credit card company to learn a replacement card had been ordered and was about to be mailed overnight to an address in Miami.

“We were able to stop any of our own money being taken from us, but it was really alarming that they were able to transfer my phone number to another carrier,” said Cristina.

Within 24 hours, Cristina was able to get her phone working again and now has added a six digit pin number to her account to keep someone else from porting her number.

How to protect yourself

The BBB offers these tips to protect yourself from this scam:

  • Add port-out authorization: Ask your wireless carrier about port-out authorization and add additional security. "Every major wireless has some sort of additional security," according to the BBB.
  • Watch out for unexpected “Emergency Calls Only” status: Call your phone company right away if you see this message because it's what happens when your phone number has been transferred to another phone.
  • Be vigilant about communications you receive: Don't open suspicious email or text messages. Also keep an eye out for bank alerts and two-factor authorization requests.

For additional information about how to protect against “port-out scams," click here.

Contributing: Xoel Cardenas, KSL.com

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