Local non-profit NeighborWorks Columbus is the victim of a financial scam. Around $100-thousand was stolen from the organization's account using fraudulent checks.
Cathy Williams, president and CEO of the organization, believes their incoming calls were forwarded so an unidentified man could pose as an employee and verify fake checks that were cashed at banks in different cities. Williams said someone would present a check worth thousands of dollars to the teller, who would then call NeighborWorks to verify the information.
Williams said the primary concern is making sure clients who called over the weekend did not give out any sensitive information that could make them vulnerable to identity theft. NeighborWorks provides housing assistance and foreclosure prevention services to hundreds of people in the area.
She is asking anyone who called the office number between 5:09 PM on Thursday to Monday morning around 9 to call back because they were not speaking with an actual employee. "It's critical that the public understands. If they called in here over the weekend they need to call back now," Williams said Monday afternoon. The number is 706-324-4663.
It all started coming to light Monday morning when employees returned from their three-day weekend. The phones were eerily silent so an employee called a representative with the phone provider to come check out the problem. Williams did not identify the telecommunications company.
Around that same time Williams called the office number and got a scary shock when a stranger answered. "And I said what number did this roll-over to? And he said excuse me. I said is this NeighborWorks Columbus. He said yes. I said, who is this and he hung up."
Officials quickly realized it was toll-fraud. A tele-thief had called the phone provider and was able to forward all incoming calls to a 678 area code number, blaming it on a power outage.
Williams does not believe any employee was involved in the scam and said user data has not been compromised. "It could have been something like a boiler room operation in shanghai. You don't know. Somebody could have just captured our phone number and sold it."
Or officials said the phone provider's server may have been hacked. The pool of tele-thieves is rapidly growing and has cost American businesses an estimated $4-billion annually.
The Better Business Bureau, or BBB, cautions people to stay vigilant on their end. "Being sure that they're encrypted; there are passwords...you're password protected and be sure that your password is strong," said Leonard Crain with the Columbus BBB.
NeighborWorks has enhanced its security system and is encouraging clients to never give out personal information over the phone.
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