"Smishing" scam hits Valley

FRESNO, Calif. Jose Alvarez of Sanger got the text message Tuesday evening. The message said, 'customer issue, Bank of the West service frozen. Please call at ... ' and included an out of area phone number. "Right away I called the number because when they say they're going to freeze your account ... not that I have a lot of money, but you want to know what's going on," said Alvarez.

The number led to an automated system that asked for his ATM number and PIN. "I punched it in. And after that I said, 'this is not right.' So I called my bank and told them and they said, no, it's not us. It's somebody else. So right away, they took care of my account," said Alvarez.

Alvarez is a Bank of the West customer but a bank spokesperson said Wednesday they never communicate with customers via text message. The company said they didn't know how widespread this attack is, but it extended beyond California. They also said most of the people who got the messages aren't Bank of the West customers.

Doug Broten with the Better Business Bureau of Central California says these kinds of scams are a new take on "phishing," which traditionally involve mass emails trying to trick you into sharing your personal information. "Smishing" is a combination of "phishing" and S-M-S text messages. "Texting is becoming a bigger and bigger thing. And it's very easy for them to send mass texts to people. They're going to catch up with people with different banks. They only need one out of 100," said Broten.

Broten said it's important for people to know real banks do not operate this way. If you do ever give out your personal information, you should call your bank immediately, like Alvarez did. "I'm a little bit angry with myself for not thinking right away. But then I worry about them doing this to other people," said Alvarez.

At least two different phone numbers were used in this phishing scam. Action News called the number Alvarez called Wednesday and this time, a man answered. He said the scammers somehow masked their number with his and he and his phone company don't know how it happened. The man said he's been flooded with more than 150 messages with people inquiring about their frozen accounts.

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