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BBB: Scam uses 'ported' phone numbers to steal money, identities

The Better Business Bureau warns a scam cropping up across the country uses stolen cell phone numbers to steal users' money and identity.

This type of scam, called port-out or cell phone porting, uses security protocols to access personal information and bank accounts.

"We've seen this scheme locally and reports of it are popping up nationally," said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "It's definitely something new, and we want people to both be aware of it and to take steps to avoid this scam."

A number of porting scams, according to a BBB news release, have been reported in the Twin Cities area.

Port scammers track down a victim's name and phone number and try to gain as much personal information as they can, such as a full name, address, Social Security number and birth date, all of which can be used to steal someone's identity or access a bank account.

They then contact mobile service providers reporting a stolen phone and ask for the phone number to be "ported" over to another device.

Scammers may even buy a brand-new device online or in-store, which could assuage sales representatives from completing some formal verification procedures.

Once the phone number ports to the new device, scammers could access accounts for email, social media and tax preparation software that require authorization like security codes texted directly to your phone.

Victims may not notice porting scams taking place until their cell phone loses service or they receive unexpected text messages with account authentication or security codes.

Scam prevention

To protect yourself from port-out scams, BBB offers these tips:

•Talk to your cell phone provider about additional security steps to port-out authorization. Customers can often set up features like a unique PIN or verification questions that make it more difficult for someone to port out your number.

•Watch out for unexpected "Emergency Calls Only" status on your phone and call your provider if your phone suddenly switches to that status or something similar. This is an indication that your phone number has been transferred to another phone. Contact the police and your bank as well.

•Watch out for phishing attempts, alert messages from financial institutions and unexpected texts responding to two-factor authorization requests you didn't initiate.

Identity recovery

Port-out scams can result in financial and identity theft.

If you believe you've fallen victim to this type of scam, the BBB recommends the Federal Trade Commission's identity recovery process at www.identitytheft.gov.

During this process, victims filed a report offering as much detail as possible. The commission then creates a personal recovery plan and walks victims through each step.

The BBB also encourages victims to file a report on their ScamTracker, which maps out potential scams throughout North America.

The ScamTracker is available at www.bbb.org/scamtracker/us.

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