Sasser, a co-founder of Panic, a software company and video game producer based in Portland, Oregon, said he was not suspicious at first. His cellphone’s caller identification system showed the call apparently came from the 800 number listed on the back of his Wells Fargo ATM card.
A male caller identified himself as a fraud department agent and said the card had just been used for purchases at a Target store in Minnesota, more than 1,500 miles away from Sasser’s home.
“It was a very smooth, very authentic-sounding call,” Sasser said in a telephone interview. “I’ve had this happen so many times that I didn’t even flinch at the fact that, great, another card got used someplace where it shouldn’t be used.”
Answering questions from the caller, Sasser said he had the card in his possession. The caller had him verify the card’s security code. Then, the man read some disclosures related to obtaining a replacement ATM card. The procedure, familiar from previous security calls, “helped with the believability,” Sasser said.
Next, the man asked him to key in a different personal identification code for the new card via his cellphone. That raised a red flag.
“There were no computer prompts or anything. I was just literally pushing numbers on my phone that he’s just hearing on the other end,” Sasser said. “I was starting to get a little nervous.”
Finally, the man asked him to enter his current PIN number into the phone.
“That was the moment that pushed me over the edge – something is definitely not right here,” Sasser said. “I asked him point blank, ‘Don’t you know my PIN number … you’re the bank?'”
The man said he couldn’t see the number and then tried to allay suspicion by reading the last four digits of Sasser’s Social Security number. Sasser said the numbers were correct, but something was “very wrong.”
Now all but certain he was being scammed, Sasser nonetheless said he reflexively shied away from being rude.
“Somehow, I found the courage to push through that hesitation,” said Sasser. “I said, ‘I’m sorry … something about this seems weird. I’m just going to call the number on the back of my card.”
The man sounded “kind of defeated” as the call ended Sasser said. But a real Wells Fargo representative was anything but crestfallen when Sasser called the bank’s security office.
“I spoke to a guy who was incredibly happy that I had stopped when I did,” because many people don’t and lose money, said Sasser. “He definitely said ‘there had been no attempted fraud on your card, and that whole story had been totally made up.'”