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Cellphone scam reaches Minnesota; reports of stolen bank accounts and identities

SHAKOPEE, Minn.—A new nationwide scam that targets smartphone users has reached Minnesota.

Tina Anderson of Shakopee was on her cellphone Monday when her service dropped. She received a text message, thanking her for joining MetroPCS — but Anderson has T-Mobile.

She went directly to MetroPCS, who told Anderson that her phone number had been ported, or transferred over from T-Mobile that day.

The scammers had already gained access to her bank account and Capital One account. Within an hour, scammers had transferred all her savings to her checking account, changed the name on her bank account and changed her Capital One information. Luckily, Anderson caught it in time.

"If I had not been so quick, I would have had to fight to get money back," Anderson said. "If I had been doing the dishes, it might be a different situation."

Anderson called her bank and Capital One and changed all her passwords for her other accounts. A T-Mobile supervisor was able to get Anderson's phone number ported back to her cellphone Tuesday.

A victim of this scam in Apple Valley was not as lucky and lost money, according to Dan Hendrickson, spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota.

"It's a bit eye-opening," Hendrickson said. "Even I'm kind of like, wow, this is a new one, and a really dangerous one."

It all starts when a scammer acquires your name and phone number, then tries to gather other personal info about you. They then contact your mobile provider, pretending to be you, and report your phone as stolen. They request the number be ported over to another provider and device.

Once your number is ported, scammers can start accessing accounts that require a one-time code via text message to authenticate your identity.

Victims of this scam, called "cellphone porting" or "port-out scam," may not know this has happened until they notice their cellphone has lost service or when they receive unexpected text messages, like Anderson.

TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF

•Get in touch with your cellphone provider and set up a unique pin or verification question you must answer before anything can be authorized. Ask specifically about porting and/or port-out security on your account.

•If your phone unexpectedly switches to "Emergency Calls Only" mode, contact your wireless provider immediately. This means your phone number could have been transferred to another phone. Report this to the police and contact your bank, as well.

•Watch out for alert messages from your banks or financial institutions, and unexpected texts in response to authentication requests you didn't initiate.

BBB encourages you to take steps to recover your identity and file a report on BBB ScamTracker if you have experienced this type of scam, and to help get the word out to others.

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