Scammers use bank as front

Erma Layton of Central Point may have been the target of an international crime this weekend. And officials from Well's Fargo and the Oregon Department of Justice say she wasn't alone.

Layton received a prerecorded message on her phone Sunday saying her Well's Fargo credit card had been canceled and that to reactivate it, she would have to provide account and access numbers.

But something wasn't quite adding up.

"I don't have a Well's Fargo account," Layton said Monday. "I knew it was a scam. "… I called Well's Fargo and the girl there knew exactly what I was talking about."

Oregon Department of Justice spokesman Tony Green said the scam was reported widely over the weekend. The scammers apparently shotgunned the state, calling random numbers hoping to gain access to personal bank accounts and credit cards, a scam called "phishing," he said.

Because phishers often are based in locations such as Nigeria, China and the Philippines, Oregon and federal law enforcement agencies are limited in investigating and prosecuting them, Green said. Even when police are able to figure out who stole the money, they're unable to go after the criminals because of their location outside the U.S.

According to figures collected by the Justice Department, Oregonians had an estimated $2 million stolen by suspected scam operations in 2010.

Well's Fargo spokesman Tom Unger said Monday morning he knew of the Portland and Eugene areas being hit with the scam over the weekend but wasn't surprised Medford also was being targeted. Well's Fargo was in no way involved in these messages, and its name was being used only because of its large customer base, he said.

"It's been all over and it's pretty much the same thing," Unger said.

A press release from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Monday afternoon said the scam had begun to target Southern Oregon on Sunday and had continued through Monday.

Medford Police Department spokesman Lt. Bob Hansen said he had been a target himself.

"They called on my work phone, if you could believe it." Hansen said.

Like Green, Hansen said because of the large scale and international nature of the scam, Medford police were limited in what they could do. Hansen said his agency had received calls about the weekend's phone scam but hadn't yet heard of anyone who had lost money.

"The most at risk seem to be the elderly population because this sort of thing didn't go on when they were in their prime," Hansen said. "People who are behind the computer-savvy curve will fall for this "… and it's important to look out for them."

Reach University of Oregon intern Mat Wolf at

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