WEST VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Police in West Vancouver are warning of a sophisticated new scam after one of their own officers nearly lost tens of thousands of dollars.
As a communications officer, Const. Kevin Goodmurphy is usually the one telling the public to watch out for scams. He says he first realized something was wrong last week, when he got a text message informing him someone was trying to port his phone number to another new company.
“I got on the phone with my cellphone provider and in the process of doing that I happened to open a banking app that I use on my phone and noticed that a large amount of money had been moved into an account that I had not set up and I knew nothing about,” he says. “So I quickly got on with my bank and they had confirmed that someone had gone into my banking, created a new account and had moved a large sum of money out of my account.”
Goodmurphy says the bank was able to stop the transaction before it was finalized and he didn’t lose any money — but came very close.
The West Vancouver Police Department says the scam is called SIM swapping. The fraudster contacts a victim’s phone carrier and uses personal information they’ve collected online or by stealing mail to convince the company they are the victim, and to link the phone number to a device they control.
— West Vancouver PD (@WestVanPolice) December 2, 2019
“These people move very quickly. I imagine that they have everything lined up and ready to go, so when they port the phone number over to their SIM card and have control over your phone, they’re ready to go,” Goodmurphy says. “It’s my understanding that they have already a bunch of downloaded apps, common apps that people use, whether that’s banking apps, social media apps, email apps. And they exploit what’s called two-factor authentication.”
That means when the fraudster tries to gain access to bank accounts or your email, they’re able to reset your password using a verification code sent to them instead of you.
“In the research that I’ve done, I see that it has been happening overseas for quite a few years,” Goodmurphy says. “I know over in the UK, I believe it was 2016 or so, they had a lot of reports of this happening over there so it’s not new internationally, [but] it appears to be relatively new in Canada.”
Police in Alberta and Ontario put out warnings about the scheme just last month, and Goodmurphy says the incident shows anyone can be targeted.
“I can say now, having been victimized by this, that it’s quite a vulnerable feeling. It just goes to show that no matter who you are or what you do, anybody is vulnerable to this,” he says, adding that while he’s received scam calls, he’s never actually been the victim before.
“This is the first time that I’ve come close this to losing a large amount of money, and I can tell you it’s not a good feeling, it’s a frightening feeling, it leaves you feeling very, very vulnerable. It hasn’t been a great last couple of weeks, that’s for sure.”
The WVPD says there are a few ways you can protect yourself from falling victim to a SIM swap.
- Keep all personal information personal. Don’t publish your date of birth on social media.
- Do not answer phishing emails or text messages asking to confirm a password or update account information.
- Use an offline password manager.
- Contact a phone provider and ask about additional security measures that may be available.
- If you lose mobile service on your device, contact a service provider immediately.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of SIM swapping or any other scam, contact the West Vancouver Police at (604) 925-7300.