The Better Business Bureau has warned of a dangerous new text scam (video below).
The BBB learned about the new con, where scammers send fake texts and emails using the names of well-known companies to extract private information from victims, from its scam-tracking system, WJAX reports.
Mikkayla Holliday, 18, who lives in Florida, was taken in by one such scam, saying the texts she received shocked her so much that she jumped out of bed when she saw them.
"Mario," who said he was from MasterCard, had texted her to say that her private information had turned up in its system, and demanded money to ensure its protection.
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"I heard my phone ding so I looked at it," Holliday recalled. "And it had my Social Security number and it said 'Oh your Social Security number popped up in our system.'"
"They said they need $295 or else or else they would leak my information out to the public," Holliday said.
"Mario" had Holliday's email, phone number and current address. The scammer sent her a screenshot with her information, continuing to threaten her.
"I started breaking down crying because I was so scared because I've had people steal my identity when I was living in Alaska, they stole everything," said Holliday.
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Holliday contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, which began to investigate the scam. When the police tried calling the number that had been texting Holliday, a person picked up, but hung up when the officer calling identified himself.
"He said that the messages looked like they were sent from a computer," she said.
Holliday contacted credit bureaus and filed an identity theft affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. She said she is changing her habits to ensure that no one else can obtain her information.
"It happened to me, it could happen to anyone," said the young woman.
"Usually, they'll have the last four of the social, not the full Social Security number," said Shannon Nelson of the BBB. Nelson said that's all the information they need to start stealing a person's identity. "If you receive something like this, you don't ignore it, you need to take action immediately."
The scammers may use the names of large companies, like AT&T or PNC Bank, to trick their victims, said Mindy Eaton, the director of communications and marketing at BBB, reports WDRB.
"There are tens of millions of customers with these companies," said Eaton. "Chances are with these scammers, they're not necessarily targeting you specifically because they know you bank at this particular bank or that you are this particular cellphone company’s customer. They're just targeting whoever they can. Because chances are, they're going to hit someone who is a customer."
Eaton advises those who are targeted to never click links from emails or texts, which may send users to sites where their information can be stolen.
"Chances are that link is going to send you to a fake website which looks like the website of the company you'd normally go to," said Eaton. "You put in your login information, and at that point the scammer has captured your login information."
Eaton suggests victims contact their local branch of the company to report the scam.