Oh no! My Visa card has been locked! How could this possibly happen? I took all the necessary precautions, such as not actually having a Visa card, so it's quite a surprise to see a message in my email declaring that this card doesn't work anymore. The message naturally has steps to revive this old card, which involve going to a site with Visa in the name – which is not the Visa site – rather than doing what you normally do and phone your bank or a number written on the card. The people running this site are not associated with Visa, though they do use the site to get cards to skim money from. The fine folks at Visa do not appreciate this, nor do the police.
It's an old scam, one that has existed for decades. Through mail, phone, or now electronic correspondence, people have tried to get important information for personal gain, and while the methods can get increasingly sophisticated, they all fall on one simple aspect: They work in ways that should shoot up red flags when you think of them. For instance, in this case, obviously I don't have that card, but if I did, there are some pretty clear indicators that this was something that was not sent out by the actual company.
For example, it's very rare that I get important financial correspondence that doesn't mention my name anywhere, like in this case. That's because it's generally really easy to have a program automatically put a specific name in place, even for a form letter. While I don't deal with Visa, I have also noticed that the credit card companies I do use seem to prefer using the phone to verify cards. This is possibly due to these exact scams, or just because that's the way they've found it to be most secure.
Even for a Visa user this message should be suspicious, but it works, and that's a problem. It's a message that shouldn't work, but it's long running, and it's not the only one. Those cold calls getting grandma or grandpa to put up thousands of dollars to release a grandchild from prison, they work. Sure, in these cases those kids are often safely at home, oblivious to what's going on, but it still catches a few people who become convinced to clear out their life savings and send it to someone suspicious. It works because it seems like people just need some truth in order to make an assessment, rather than thinking critically about the people they're dealing with, and why these actions are all incredibly suspicious.
In general, one can figure out fairly easily that this is fraud because it just doesn't follow established patterns. Financial institutions, family members, major software manufacturers, none of them actually behave in the way that these messages outline. These messages and calls have the veneer of legitimacy, but are easily foiled so long as you realize that this isn't a normal reaction. If a grandchild was locked in a foreign jail, phoning a grandparent for money is a strange course of action. Locking someone's card but not identifying them by name or giving any information about that card, that's a strange course of action. It's the kind of thing that makes it easy to spot the scam, because there's always something a little off about them, no matter how official it looks. In these cases, one always has to ask themselves if this was something that you would expect the real company to do. If not, don't fall for it.