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Cali Owings, Published March 04 2014

In response to latest scam, Gate City Bank says: 'Never give out your personal information'

FARGO – A recent wave of phone scams in North Dakota and Minnesota is nothing new, experts say, but this time fraudsters are taking an extra step to appear credible.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Gate City Bank both warned consumers this week about a persistent phone scam that targets local area codes, uses the community bank’s name and even imitates the bank’s customer service number to retrieve personal account information from its victims.

Using a robo-dialer, scam artists dial thousands of local numbers with a false “security alert” message, according to a release from Stenehjem’s office. The message claims an account has been locked and that customers must provide confidential information such as card number, personal identification number and card security code to unlock their account.

The attorney general’s office issued warnings for similar scams in 2012 and 2013.

“These types of scams have happened before, they’re happening now and will happen again, but just never give out your personal information,” said Maureen Jelinek, director of operations for Gate City Bank.

Jelinek said though the scammers are calling randomly generated local telephone numbers, it’s likely they will reach some Gate City Bank customers because of its market share in the region. The bank has 34 locations throughout North Dakota and Minnesota.

Gate City has received “a large volume of calls” from customers and non-customers reporting the scam, she said.

Though Gate City Bank’s name is attached to recent messages, Stenehjem warned in the release that scam artists will switch to using another bank’s name to find more victims after consumer warnings.

Since the scam started around Feb. 23, Jelinek said the bank has notified online banking customers, put warnings up on its website and mailed letters to account holders urging them not to give personal information to scammers, and that the bank has not been breached or compromised though its name is mentioned in the false account alerts.

Though Jelinek said bank officials don’t have an exact number, the percentage of Gate City Bank customers who fell victim to the scam and gave away personal information, but it “probably isn’t high.”

“Generally most of our communities are aware of it and recognizing it as a scam, but unfortunately it’s catching people off-guard,” she said.

For customers who were affected, she said the bank is helping to close accounts or cards, open new ones and remove any fraudulent charges.

She and Stenehjem emphasized that in most cases, businesses will not call customers to solicit personal information, so the best response for these calls is to hang up.

“There isn’t any reputable company that should be calling you and asking for that information over the phone,” Jelinek said. “The best bet is to hang up and call a number you’re familiar with to validate that the call is real and not a scam.”

Recognize scams

To help protect consumers from scams like these, the AARP is offering training sessions throughout the state with help from the North Dakota Attorney General’s office and the Better Business Bureau.

Training will cover recent trends in scams and different types, such as telemarketing fraud, Jamaican scams, cellphone scams, computer error scams and credit/debit card scams.

The 90-minute “Lunch and Learn” program will be held March 26 in Fargo and is free and open to the public.

If you go

What: Get Smart on Scams

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 26

Where: Ramada Plaza and Suites, 1635 42nd St. S., Fargo

Info: Call (877) 926-8300 or register online at www.aarp.org/nd.


If you receive an automated message claiming to be from a financial institution, you may be the target of a scam.

  • Do not give away personal information.

  • Hang up. If you play along, you may receive even more scam calls.

  • Scammers may be using software to appear to be calling from a legitimate number. You should still be suspicious if you didn’t initiate the call.

  • If you have questions about your account, call a customer service line that you are familiar with directly.

  • Remember, businesses such as banks and financial institutions will not call and ask you to provide personal information. They already have it on file.

  • Report complaints of the calls to the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357.

  • If you have given personal information to a potential scammer, notify the FTC and your financial institution.

    Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599