Altamont residents warned of bank scam

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Altamont Police Chief Jason Johnston

ALTAMONT — Altamont police are warning village residents to be on the lookout for mail from PNC Bank because its contents could contain debit or credit cards fraudulently applied for in their names. 

Chief Jason Johnston said the scam appears to have something “to do with some sort of special that [PNC] is running where people get money for opening accounts.”

What happens, Johnston said, is the scammers will open an account with PNC Bank using a stolen identity. PNC will then send the person whose identity was stolen a real debit or credit card. The scam is PNC pays people for opening the account, and the scammer takes the money that is supposed to go to the person whose identity was stolen. 

While Johnston hasn’t confirmed the financial incentive as the reason for the scam, he said that’s the theory he’s heard from other law-enforcement agencies that have dealt with the same issue. And he cautioned that his description of the scam wasn’t definitive, but he wanted “the residents in the village of Altamont to be saved from it.”

PNC Bank did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

“Thankfully, as of this point, it doesn’t look like any of the residents of Altamont have suffered any financial loss here,” Johnston said. It’s still identity theft though, because people’s identities are being used to open the accounts, the chief said.

“So the victim is actually PNC Bank, people are defrauding them, but they’re using actual people’s identities to open the accounts,” Johnston said of the scammers. “And then the people aren’t suffering any loss as of this point, but you always have to be safe with that.”

The chief’s major concern is that the people whose identities were stolen receive the actual cards in the mail and end up throwing them away, then someone finds the card and activates it. “Then the people would be suffering,” he said. 

From his own research, Johnston said what happens is the scammers who open an account with PNC receive the account-opening bonus; the people whose identities were stolen “aren’t actually losing anything other than credit score.”

The scam has happened all over the country over the last year or so, he said. The scammers will target a neighborhood for identity theft; in the case of Altamont, it’s residents of Whipple Road — at least that’s the only neighborhood from where the department has received complaints. 

Altamont police had received eight calls as of Friday regarding the scam, the same scenario over and over: The residents receive a mailer welcoming them as new account-holders with PNC Bank. 

Johnston advises anyone who’s been affected by the scam to call PNC and report the fraud. He also recommended identity-theft victims report the incidents to the Federal Trade Commission as well as the major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, so those bureaus can place an alert on the victims’ accounts. 

Johnston also asked that victims notify the Altamont Police Department, so it can document the incident for its own report. 

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