Old Wives' Tales
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Legend: Text message to "hubby" on stolen phone nets purse snatcher a PIN he uses to empty a couple's bank account.
Origins: This instance of a scam in which a weakness in the user's method of storing information in her cell phone is turned against her first reached the snopes.com inbox in April 2006. Judging by its then-reference to "your SMS" (which in later versions became "your text"), we would guess it to have been penned by someone outside the U.S. or the UK, where "text" or "text message" are more typical terms for the form of written message one types on a telephone keypad. ("SMS," which stands for "Short Message Service," is a service primarily available in Europe that governs the relay of very brief text messages on cell phones in a mode similar to that of paging, except that the receiving units do not have to be on for messages to transmit. SMS has also in numerous spots around the world come to be used both as the term for a cell phone text message itself and the act of sending one, as in "I just sent you an SMS" or "Where have you been? I've been SMSing you all afternoon.")
Given the lack of information provided in the narrative with which to prove or disprove it and the dearth of accounts of similar nature in the news (and it's been two years since this article was first penned, which means there has been lots of time for the story to come to light if there had been an actual robbery of this nature), this tale is best regarded as a cautionary tale rather than as an account of an actual incident — something meant to inspire greater prudence on the part of cell phone users whose casual laxity regarding security matters might otherwise lead them to
Handbags do get stolen, and a great many women as a matter of habit carry their phones in their pocketbooks, which means a purse snatcher may net himself both the victim's ATM card and her cell phone. If those so robbed have identified their spouses in their phones' address books as "hubby," "my sweetie," or the like, thieves might know exactly whom to attempt to extract cash card PINs from (although most ATMs have daily withdrawal limits that would prevent an account from being "emptied in
However, far more important than restricting stored phone numbers to first-name identifiers is training those who have your bank account's PIN to refuse to give it up. A text message (as the story demonstrates) can come from anyone — that it is sent from your own phone doesn't preclude the possibility that your mobile has fallen into someone else's hands. The more cautious will instruct their nearest and dearest to always say "no" to verbal requests for PINs because voices can be mimicked (with small differences being attributed to the phone's acting up). Remember, someone receiving a call from your cell is preconditioned to believe the caller is you and is therefore more likely to unthinkingly blurt out the information "you've" asked for, even if "you" don't quite sound like your usual self.
Barbara "safety PIN" Mikkelson
Last updated: 12 January 2009
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