WASHINGTON -- Exactly a year ago, FOX 5 was the first to report about people using the E-ZPass Express Lanes in Virginia getting fined tens of thousands of dollars for accidentally missed tolls.
Our investigation led to big changes to the system. But now, some online scammers have taken advantage of the situation by sending out fake phishing emails that are putting your credit and finances at risk.
People are getting emails that looks like it came from E-ZPass and says you have an unpaid bill.
"Never click on anything that says E-ZPass," said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson John Townsend. "It's probably a scam."
E-ZPass' parent group posted an alert about the scam. It said E-ZPass will send you a letter in the mail if your account is overdue and will not send you anything through email.
The Maryland Transportation Authority also warns to never give these phishing emails your social security number or credit card.
We have some of the worst traffic in the country in this area and that is why over two million people in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. with E-ZPass accounts use these Express Lanes to get around some of the traffic. But that is giving online criminals a very large target.
This is happening now because they know people in our area are afraid of getting smacked with huge fines for using E-ZPass Express Lanes.
"If you are following the news cycle as all of us are in the Washington metro area and you see these stories you've been doing, then your curiosity will compel you to click on to this email and you become prey to this scam," said Townsend.
The online criminals don't have access to real E-ZPass accounts. They are just casting a wide net to catch a few fish.
Our former intern Ally Brandfass does not have E-ZPass, but she received a phishing email.
"I had seen stories done about people getting thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of charges for not paying off these invoices so it kind of scared me at first thinking that I might get all these charges on my card that I didn't even know I had," she said.
But Brandfass handled it correctly.
"I called E-ZPass and asked them, 'What was going on? What was happening? Do I have a balance I need to pay?' And they said that they don't send emails when people have invoices -- they call -- and so it wasn't from them," Brandfass said.
So if you get an unsolicited from E-ZPass, just hit delete.
AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends that if you get one of these scam emails, you should do three things:
- Tell the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI. Both of them are tracking these emails.
- Contact your banks and credit cards to let them know you were hit.
- If you open the email at work, tell your company's IT department.
The Federal Trade Commission has also issued these tips:
- Never click on links in emails unless you're sure who sent you the message.
- Don't respond to any emails that ask for personal or financial information. Email isn't a secure way to send that information.
- Type an organization's URL yourself, and don't submit personal or financial information at a website unless the URL begins with https (the "s" stands for secure).
- If an email looks like it is from E-ZPass, contact E-Z Pass customer service to confirm that it is really from the agency.
- Keep your computer security software current.
If you have fallen for the scam, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org and to the company impersonated in the email, AAA Mid-Atlantic said.
You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.