Police in Washington State said they are investigating seven cases of scammers stealing phone numbers from T-Mobile customers in Redmond so they can access their bank accounts.
There also was a confirmed case in Everett, where a woman nearly lost $1,920 when thieves attempted the scam on her.
“They basically yeah stole my number -- they had my phone cut off,” Carrie Hartwig said.
The scam is not just specific to T-Mobile customers. Redmond police said the phone scam could affect anyone with a mobile phone who does not have a second layer of protection, such as an additional passcode.
For Hartwig, the trouble began Jan. 7 when she got a text message from T-Mobile alerting her about a change in her service.
“I said ‘Wait a minute, no, I did not authorize any changes to my account,’” she said.
Hartwig said customer service was not helpful, but after repeated attempts, she finally got service restored to her phone.
The moment that happened, Hartwig received a fraud alert from Chase bank.
“It was $1,920 and I had $1,930 in the account,” she said. "So they had successfully got on my account, got on my bank account, saw what we had in the bank, and tried to take all but $10."
Fortunately, Hartwig was able to get the bank to freeze her account before thieves were able to gain access to the money.
Redmond police spokeswoman Andrea Wolf-Buck said they had never seen this specific scam until cases started popping up in December.
"People are very creative and inventive with finding ways to steal," she said.
She explained it all starts with thieves getting your personal information: your name, phone number and likely your Social Security number.
Then, in this case, the thieves take their victim's T-Mobile phone number, and using that personal information, transfer that number to a Metro PCS phone. That means their Metro PCS phone now has the victim's phone number attached to it, and the victim's phone no longer works.
Technology experts said thieves then contact the victim's bank and when they want to reset the password on that account, a verification code is sent to the phone number on the mobile device in the scammer's hands. That allows thieves to get in and empty out, or at least try to empty out, the account.
"The victims we've seen in the seven different reports we've had -- there's been anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 taken each time," Wolf-Buck said.
T-Mobile, based in Bellevue, provided a link on its website dedicated to this scam. It states in part, "Our industry is experiencing a phone number port out scam that could impact you."
The site recommends people "call 611 from your T-Mobile phone ... [and] create a 6-to-15-digit passcode that will be added to your account."
If anyone tries to steal your number, "the new carrier will be required to validate the request with T-Mobile using your passcode."
It's something Hartwig wishes she had known. She received a text from T-Mobile warning her about the scam more than a week after she was targeted.
"I'm angry," she said.
Police in Bellevue and Seattle said they do not have any cases of using this kind of scam at this point.
Police advise anyone with a cell phone to check with their wireless carrier and make sure they have that extra passcode set up to prevent this from happening.
Reports show similar scams hitting Verizon, Sprint and AT&T customers in 2016 and as recently as August 2017.