VDOT, FBI warn of new scam targeting toll road drivers

You’re probably aware of scams known as “phishing,” but are you familiar with “smishing?”

The FBI and the Virginia Department of Transportation say you should be, especially if you use toll roads.

It’s a scam, but unlike phishing, which uses emails and websites to try to dupe you, smishing schemes use text messages. The term comes from combining “phishing” and “short messaging service,” also known as SMS.

“They try to get you to click something, and in this case, a text. And that link usually sends you to a bad place where, if you provide information … it’s going to be a bad outcome,” said David Caudill, division administrator for VDOT’s Tolling Operations Division.

One such scheme authorities are tracking involves fraudulent texts regarding toll balances.

Since the publishing of this story, at least one listener has reached out to WTOP to report receiving a scam text claiming to be from “Virginia Toll Services,” which does not exist.

Caudill said VDOT hasn’t received a report about the scheme in Virginia, but neighboring North Carolina has, along with Pennsylvania and Illinois.

After more than 2,000 complaints in at least three states, the FBI issued a warning this week about the attacks.

“It’s kind of a broad net we are throwing out to anybody in the drives, basically, or even if you don’t drive, to someone that has a phone number. And they’re basically giving you information that you have an outstanding toll and you need to go to a website, that’s the embedded link, to pay it,” Caudill said.

When it comes to Virginia’s tolling system, he said officials do use text messages to share information with you about your account.

“The difference between our texts and what we’re talking about here is we don’t have an embedded link,” he said.

His advice: never click a link inside of a text message about a toll balance.

In its warning, the FBI shared an example of the scam message:

“(State Toll Service Name): We’ve noticed an outstanding toll amount of $12.51 on your record. To avoid a late fee of $50.00, visit https://myturnpiketollservices.com to settle your balance.”

Caudill said, in Virginia, there are two websites to use, the Toll Roads in Virginia website and the E-ZPass site, when checking a balance or adding funds to your account. You can also call 877-762-7824 for a message regarding whether an outstanding toll is due.

“It doesn’t seem to be hitting Virginia residents yet, but we’re trying to get in front of it just to create that awareness,” Caudill said of the scam.

If you do believe you were a victim of the scam, authorities say to save the text and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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