Airman loses $600 to '1-cent deposit' scam |
by Staff Sgt. Don Branum
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
4/19/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNEWS) -- An Airman assigned to the 50th Mission Support Squadron here recently fell victim to a new banking scam against which vigilance is the only defense.
Airman A, whose full name has been withheld for privacy reasons, first noticed the scam when money began disappearing from his account at a local bank.
"I'm not usually the type of person who checks his account balances every day," Airman A said. "I called the bank recently to find out my balance, and the amount in the account was lower than I'd expected."
More specifically, the account balance was $124.90 less than it should have been. A business named "Equity First" had made the debit. The toll-free number listed on the transaction led to dead ends -- none of the options would allow Airman A to speak with a human. So he went online.
"I searched for information, and the result that came up was for a mortgage company," said Airman A, who lives in one of the Schriever Air Force Base Airmen's dormitories on Peterson AFB. He found a toll-free number on that site and called.
Joanna Thorndyke is an employee at the mortgage company Airman A contacted. Equity 1st Mortgage, based in Wilmington, N.C., is not the "Equity First" making the withdrawals, but company employees have fielded dozens of complaints since the scam began.
"We've had people calling from all over the country except North Carolina -- the only state in which we're licensed to do business," Mrs. Thorndyke said.
She has handled approximately 100 phone calls from scam victims since at least 2006, including five calls she received April 1. In every case, the amount withdrawn was the same: $124.90.
The scammers apparently generate random routing and account numbers, into which they try to deposit one cent, Mrs. Thorndyke said. Once the one-cent deposit clears, the perpetrators know the account is active and begin to withdraw funds from the account.
Based on the call traffic, Mrs. Thorndyke said the withdrawals seemed to take place near the beginning of the month. Some people had only seen a single withdrawal from their accounts. In Airman A's case, however, the perpetrator had struck several times. His total loss was more than $600.
"We've contacted everyone we can in our state to clear our name," Ms. Thorndyke said. "We hate that our name's associated with something like this, but we're letting victims know that they need to contact their banks."
Airman A contacted his bank, the Peterson AFB branch of 5-Star Bank. Vickie DuVal, the bank manager, refunded the amounts and recommended Airman A open a new bank account to stop the fraudulent withdrawals.
"This was the first time I'd seen this," Ms. DuVal said.
Because the transfers clear electronically, people are not asked to verify the transactions. However, they may dispute the transactions once they notice what's happening.
"For Automated Clearing House or ACH transactions, the customer can fill out a dispute form, and we can reverse the transaction," Ms. DuVal said.
Airman A recommended people check their accounts frequently. He now checks his balance and transactions daily.
"Look for peculiar deposits," he said. "Make sure you know who is depositing and withdrawing from your account."
The Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado also recommended people contact their banks about suspicious deposit or withdrawal amounts and shred financial documents to protect themselves from other forms of identity theft.
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