Card member services or not?

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted July 31, 2011, at 7:57 p.m.

Phones have been ringing all over Maine in recent weeks. Every time, the message is the same.

“This is Rachel from Card Member Services …” Most readers can probably recite the rest of the message by heart. Rachel is calling to assure you that nothing’s wrong with your credit, but she can help you lower your interest rates.

The next sound heard on those phones across Maine is the click of the handset hitting the cradle, as one after another of us hangs up in disgust.

This robot disguised as a woman has been calling, off and on, for four or five years now, and we’re all pretty tired of her rap. It has to be a scam — who’s going to offer us lower interest rates in this economy? Who is she kidding?

It’s no joke. It is a serious attempt by crooks to take your money. And it has been slick enough to date that neither state nor federal officials have been able to stop it.

People who have been called by “Rachel” have tried all kinds of ways to root out the schemers. Caller ID won’t work; neither does “star-69.” The cyber creeps are ‘way beyond the tools most of us have to track them. That’s led some consumers to vent about the inability of the federal Do Not Call list to end the madness; in practice, these crooks ignore the law and keep calling.

David Leach of Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection has studied the problem. Leach says the scammers likely use computer programs that “spoof” your phone’s caller ID, showing an untraceable number. When “Rachel” says you can press a number to be removed from their call list, these programs simply use that action to verify that yours is a “live” number; you’ll likely receive more calls, not fewer.

Leach says the scammers use consumers’ legitimate desire to save money to extract personal information, such as their account and routing numbers. They might ask people to wire funds for their “services,” which amount to nothing more than stealing your money.

Leach advises against responding to any overtures from “Rachel” or any other alias purporting to adjust interest rates. That’s especially true on-line, where a mouse click on a link provided by thieves can download malware designed to access financial and personal information stored on your computer.

Within the past 60 days, Leach sent the files from several complaining consumers to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC looks for patterns of this type of activity, in hopes the crooks make a mistake that will lead investigators to them.

Honest businesses must be cheering those efforts. CardMember Services is a legitimate business which warns consumers not to respond to emails or phone calls that appear to be from them. They say it’s not their practice to ask you to verify account or other information by phone or email (scammers do this in demanding terms). Like other legitimate businesses, they won’t threaten to close your account if you don’t respond and they won’t share information with third parties outside the terms of their privacy policy.

Since the scammers sound similar to the real thing, people do fall for their pitches. Their boldness surprises some observers, who wonder why the robo-callers continue to use the phrases “card services,” “card member services” or other variants to identify their bogus business.

David Leach figures the crooks are just building on what’s worked so far. “They’ve built an infamous brand, and they’re running with it,” he says.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/07/31/business/card-member-services-or-not/ printed on November 21, 2014