Monday, January 30, 2006

"SBA Express" - A Case of (Almost) Identity Theft

Not long ago, I heard about a client of Bernie Ryba (from the outreach office of the Stony Brook SBDC in Great River) who had an experience worth sharing with all of you.

Bernie's client - a well-educated man - received a phone call from someone saying they were from SBA Express, and that his loan application had been approved, and that they needed his Social Security Number to finish processing. The client was somewhat confused, as he hadn't applied for any funding. However, he assumed that his advisor spoke with SBA, who in turn spoke with SBA Express. "They have 'SBA' in their name," he reasoned. "Why wouldn't they be legitimate?"

With this in mind, he gave the rep his Social Security Number. It didn't take long for him to regret it.

He called Bernie, and asked if he'd heard of the company. Bernie had not, and asked for the toll-free number they provided (1-877-545-2174). He called, and pretended to be someone looking for financing. He asked a rep, "Are you affiliated with the SBA?" And he was told, "No."

The conversation ended quickly after that, as it confirmed Bernie's suspicion that it was a scam. He contacted his client, and told him to get in touch with his bank (fortunately, he didn't have any existing credit cards to his name) and monitor his accounts, as well as to file a police report. He sent the client a copy of this article, and told him of the IdentityTheft 911, Web site that (among other things) helps victims of identity theft.

Bernie then left a message with the Attorney General's office regarding this case (he's still waiting to hear from them). He also notified his peers at the Stony Brook SBDC. An e-mail came to the Central Office (it's how I heard about it), and information was passed on to New York's SBA Regional Offices. (I would also suggest contacting the Federal Trade Commission.)

And he was good enough to speak to me at length about the case. So far, the client hasn't experienced any catastrophic loss from divulging his SSN, but he waits & wonders if the other shoe will drop someday.

So, Lesson #1: If you have a client who hears from SBA Express, warn them of this case. Lesson #2: And it bears repeating - never give your SSN number over the phone or through an e-mail (in other words, don't get phished). Even clients as well-educated as this one can still fall prey. (And kudos to Bernie for acting quickly on this, and being the kind of advisor that a client can contact, even when he or she is feeling foolish.)

For additional information, Roger posted a blog on identify theft on 6/28/05, and Mary Beth had some input in a posting on 11/10/05. Also, Roger has a series of PowerPoint slides on the subject that he put together for a presentation at the 2003 ASBDC Conference. Give him a call if you're interested in seeing them.

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