Friday, February 17, 2006

Layton Family Falls Victim to Online ‘Phishing’ Scam

The following is courtesy of:

By Lynn Wilde, Business Editor
January 23, 2006

When Weber State University police academy hopeful Laura Levingston went to work on Jan. 12, she had enough money in the bank to cover the checks she had written. When she returned home at 11:45 p.m., her bank account was overdrawn. Soccer tickets and hip-hop multimedia were charged to her account.

“I woke my husband up and asked him if he had made purchases from PayPal,” Levingston said.

When she learned the purchases were made fraudulently, she began looking for other suspicious activity. Using the history on her Web browser, Levingston attempted to retrace her husband’s steps to no avail.

Levingston was a victim of phishing. According to Wikipedia, the term phishing “arises from the use of increasingly sophisticated lures to ‘fish’ for users’ financial information and passwords.”

Levingston’s husband received an e-mail from someone whom he thought was PayPal asking him to update his account.

“He thought it was a legitimate request,” Levingston said. He submitted the information, which included his checking account information.

According to, identity thieves send e-mails to people asking them to confirm the information for their account. There is often a threat that failure to provide a quick response might cause account closure. The e-mails often have links to a counterfeit site that appears real.

After a sleepless night, Levingston contacted her financial institution, Bank of Utah.

“They were really nice,” she said. The lady told me I would probably get my money back.”

Bank of Utah reacted quickly and froze her account. Any activity had to be approved by Levingston. She closed the pillaged account and opened a new one.

Scott Parkinson, senior vice president of retail banking for Bank of Utah said the first line of defense to avoid getting scammed is education. His bank puts out fliers to warn people of the dangers of identity theft, how to avoid it, and what to do if victimized. He also refers customers to Bank of Utah’s Web site for more information.

“Our goal is to stay one step ahead of the crooks,” Parkinson said.

However, Levingston was a few steps behind. She called some of the merchants about the unauthorized purchases and was credited her money back. Some of the charges dropped off the account. She is still waiting for a credit from an online vendor.

“Had I not signed up for online banking, I wouldn’t have known,” Levingston said.

The crooks also submitted bids and won auctions on Ebay. She received negative feedback as a result.

The emotional effects of getting phished have been devastating for Levingston. She feels violated.

“I know it’s irrational, but I’m afraid to go outside” she said. “I don’t know what information someone has about me.”

And the financial effects have been upsetting to Levingston and her family. Trying to recover from Christmas and her husband being out of work, Levingston worked 18 days in a row to catch up. She had just enough to cover her bills.

“It was like I worked for nothing,” she said.

Also, other important plans were quelled.

“I couldn’t go out on my anniversary,” Levingston said.

She has recovered most of her money, but lost her trust.


Reach reporter Lynn Wilde by calling 801-626-7624.

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Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, engaging talk show host, humorous speaker, and successful trainer who teaches small business owners, managers, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their critical thinking, speaking, and management skills.

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