The phone rings and a credit card holder listens to a voice “from the credit card company” telling him his Visa will not work after January 1, 2000. Concerned, the credit card holder then gives the caller what she’s asking for: his account and social security number and address. A month later, the man’s credit card statement is filled with charge after expensive charge from places he never shopped.
As Y2K-inspired skepticism rises, con artists are preying on consumers who fear the financial consequences of the dreaded computer bug, creating numerous tum-of-the- century-related scams. Individuals posing as financial institution employees or auditors have phoned customers and asked them to transfer money from existing accounts to special Year 2000 safe accounts while the bank smooths out any Y2K-related problems. In reality, those callers were con artists trying to pry out confidential information they could use to pilfer from credit card and bank accounts.
In an effort to spread the word out about credit card and banking scams, Nevada financial institutions are warning account holders about the dirty deeds. BankWest and U.S. Bank are urging customers to never release account or credit card numbers over the phone, unless they initiated the call to a reputable company. In addition, U.S. Bank asks its customers to beware of red flags such as anyone posing as a government agent or bank official requesting assistance in an investigation or audit of the customer’s financial institution.
Incidents of Y2K fraud are increasing around the country, but Nevada banking customers haven’t been hit as hard. Yet. Said Kelly Hinrichs, U.S. Bank’s district service manager for Nevada, “In late November and December when the clock starts to tick and people start to really evaluate their comfort level I think we’ll start to see some increased fraud and schemes.”
Banking industry officials hope that their information campaign has succeeded and that customers only will withdraw enough money on or before December 31 to get through a long weekend. BankWest officials are confident that customers are savvy enough to realize the benefits of letting their money sit in an FDIC-insured institution rather than in an unprotected locale.
”We’ve initiated quite a program to instill confidence in our consumers and our business people,” said Larry Woodrum, president and CEO of BankWest of Nevada. ”We’ve done everything we can to make sure we’re year-2000 compliant and we’re very confident about it. The best place to leave your money is in the bank.”
In a worst case scenario, deposits would shrink, Woodrum said, but he’s confident preparation has paid off, and the bank plans to have adequate liquidity on band. “As long as there’s no panic where customers are taking millions and millions of dollars out I think most of the banks are going to handle it very easily,” Woodrum said. “We have a pretty loyal base and I think they have confidence in us and our bank.”