Watchdog Group Warns Consumers Cyber Thieves are Going After Cell Numbers to Access Bank Accounts

March 18, 2018 10:38 PM

Some families in Roseville, Shoreview, Apple Valley, Shakopee and Woodbury say their cell phone numbers have been recently hijacked.

The cyber thieves go after them to get at even more valuable information like bank accounts, technology experts say.


All of the major carriers – T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T – are susceptible, according to the Better Business Bureau, which has issued a warning to customers.

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Shoreview's Jesse Kloeppner says he was a victim of cyber thieves at the end of February when $1,799 was transferred "to some unknown person." 

Kloeppner says the crooks took over his cell phone and everything in it. "I realized I couldn't make a phone call – I had no service – and thought that's weird."

He was not only locked out of T-mobile, but the family's Wells Fargo bank accounts too. 

"The convenience of the cell phone left us wide open," Kloeppner said.

Kloeppner reported the suspected fraud to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office. And so have a dozen other people in the metro with similar stories.

The problem is even bigger nationwide, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which tracks phone-port scams. In January 2013, 1,038 complaints were filed with the agency; in January of 2016, 2,658 complaints were filed.

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The FTC said thieves get a hold of personal information like a person's name, cell phone number and last four digits of the social security number. Kloeppner believes that happened during a data breach. 

Once hackers get control of the phone number, they use it to reset passwords linked to bank accounts and payment apps, like Zelle.

T-mobile sent a text alert to customers which warns of an industry-wide phone number port-out scam, along with a phone number to call for help. It also set up a website specifically for customers to sign up for port protection.

Kloeppner now has his number back, along with added security. He's passing along what happened to his family not to cause panic, he says, but to help people avoid becoming victims of such fraud. 

RELATED: Better Business Bureau Warns Football Fans to Look for Signs of Ticket Scams

"Now when I call I have to give a special code, they won't handle anything over the phone," he said.

Kloeppner also said Wells Fargo reimbursed his account for the stolen money. 

As for other carriers, the BBB urges customers to be proactive and ask for an additional passcode. That means before a cell phone number could be ported, there would be a two-step validation process. 


Beth McDonough

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