INDIANAPOLIS - Police have been alerted to cellphone accounts being hijacked in Indianapolis; allowing thieves to order tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics to be charged to unsuspecting customers’ accounts.
In separate cases this week, police were told thieves tried to charge $50,000 worth of electronics to the Heritage Christian School in northeast Indianapolis, while other scammers ordered $10,000 worth of smart phones using a local roofing company’s account.
In each case, the criminals were able to gain enough knowledge of account numbers, names and addresses to hijack the victims’ accounts and begin racking up electronics purchases within minutes.
“We weren’t as vigilant as we should have been,” said Jim Huntington, owner of AAA Roofing just east of downtown Indianapolis.
He reported to police that a caller claimed to be a Verizon employee who was trying to sort out a billing area. The caller asked for his business’ federal tax ID number and then started placing orders in the company’s name within minutes.
“As soon as I gave them the information, I knew I shouldn’t have,” said Huntington.
He immediately called the Verizon fraud department and was told that $10,000 worth of smart phones and tablets had been charged to his company. Eight separate e-mails arrived to confirm the various purchases within just a few minutes of the fraudulent call. Each order was supposed to be shipped to various addresses in other parts of Indiana.
Verizon quickly froze the accounts and credited his account. “No loss for our business. Zero dollars, but it could have been (worse) … had we not done something,” he said.
Also this week, the CEO of the Heritage Christian School reported to police that someone opened a $50,000 account in the school’s name, with his own name being signed to purchase orders for electronics to be shipped to an address in Carson City, Nev.
He told police that his middle initial was incorrect and a different address was listed for the school on those fraudulent orders.
Consumer protection experts told the Call 6 Investigators that it’s a lesson to keep a close eye on monthly billing statements, even with large companies that may have dozens or hundreds of cellphones tied to their accounts. Those experts also warned that account holders should be careful in divulging even tiny shreds of account information that could be hijacked by a criminal.
The Cellular Telephone Industry Association also warns everyday consumers to safeguard their own account information.
Huntington, the owner of the roofing business, said it’s especially tricky since federal tax ID numbers and business addresses can be found so easily on the Internet.
Fortunately, he said, “we caught it right away.”