Last week, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum received a text from her bank asking if she’d recently spent $750 at Walmart.
She hastily texted back “NO,” and almost immediately her phone rang.
Rosenblum, who’s made consumer protection a priority, spent 10 minutes on the phone.
She grew increasingly suspicious.
The caller, frustrated with her questions, hung up.
The call was typical of fraudsters who have stolen billions of dollars a year from Americans. Rosenblum said she opted to go public with her account to warn Oregonians that if it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
“You feel embarrassed, like, how could I not recognize the signs of a scam? And here I am, I actually teach people about how to avoid getting scammed. And initially, it didn’t even cross my mind,” she told the Capital Chronicle. “I just want to get people’s attention.”
First elected in 2012, Rosenblum is involved in several consumer protection initiatives. For years, she and her office’s consumer education director have traveled the state presenting to groups of primarily older Oregonians about how to avoid getting scammed.
In 2019, she formed the Consumer Privacy Task Force to recommend legislation to protect consumer privacy. It is currently devising a bill that would require the registration of data brokers who sell personal information, allowing consumers to opt out.
Rosenblum is optimistic the legislation, which is similar to California’s Consumer Privacy Bill, will gain bipartisan support in the state Legislature.
Rosenblum, 71, says she tries to stay up on the latest swindles.
“I know a lot about scams and frauds, and I gotta tell you, this particular one is really, really devious.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s “Scam Alert Network.” posted a notice by Rosenblum urging Oregonians to beware of phony bank scammers. The Oregon Department of Justice has reports from consumers who, like Rosenblum, had received calls and text messages purporting to be from their financial institution.
Several factors set this new scam apart, according to Rosenblum. For one, the text she received asked her to reply back “YES” or “NO,” but it also included another option: text ‘STOP’ to prevent future text messages. That little detail helped the scammer slip past her initial defenses, she said.
There was another factor new to Rosenblum: The scam featured both a text and a phone call. The scammers start with a text. In one version of the scam – the one that targeted Rosenblum – the message asks the victim if they’d made a large purchase on a particular date. In another version, the text says changes have been made to the victim’s bank account. And once on the phone, the scammer tries to extract as much personal information from the victim as possible.
Most scams bear several telltale signs, according to the attorney general’s office. Scammers often try to impart a sense of urgency in their victim, and they ask for information they should already have. The attorney general’s office advises a person who receives suspicious calls or texts claiming to be from a financial institution to call their bank and report what happened.
Rosenblum and her husband, Richard Meeker, who share a bank account, have received new bank cards and PIN numbers. She suspects her scammers acquired her data through a corporate hack.
One red flag that the purported bank representative was not legit was that he kept referring to her as “Mrs. Rosenblum.”
“I cannot stand it when people call me, ‘Mrs. Rosenblum,’ because I kept my birth name and I never go by ‘Mrs. Rosenblum,’” she said. “I kept telling him, ‘Please do not refer to me as ‘Mrs. Rosenblum.’ You can call me ‘Ellen’ if you want.’ And he just couldn’t quite handle that. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.”
To file a complaint or report a scam, visit oregonconsumer.gov or call 877-877-9392.
Tips to avoid scams
- Do not give anyone you don’t know personal information, including your Social Security number and credit card and bank account information information.
- Do not click on links from someone you don’t know in an email. You could end up with an electronic virus.
- If you get a call from someone who says they work at your bank, hang up and call your bank. Do not call a number they give you because it’s likely to be phony.
- Ignore instructions to text “STOP” or “NO” to prevent future texts.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.
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Garrett Andrews covers justice, health and social services. Before joining the Oregon Capital Chronicle, he worked for 14 years at newspapers in Colorado and Oregon. He has a master's degree in political science from the University of Colorado-Denver.