Phony toll-bill texts flood Washington state drivers' phones


Scammers are trying to extract personal information from Washington drivers by blasting out fake toll-bill notices to cellphones.

The text messages contain images copied from real Washington State Department of Transportation websites, including the green Good To Go! toll-pass logo and an image of the Tacoma Narrows bridges.

However, WSDOT never bills people by text, and says these kinds of messages are fake.

The state received 406 phone calls from the public since mid-May to ask or complain about these texts, and others commented on social media, said Chris Foster, WSDOT toll spokesperson.

WSDOT sent email alerts to all 1.4 million toll pass holders in April, and the tolling website says: "Scam Alert: Good To Go! will not request payments on any website but Do not click unknown links in emails or texts. We never ask for birth date when paying tolls."

Phishing scams have been reported in several states, where websites seek personal or payment-card information. The FBI reported thousands of complaints. The Federal Trade Commission encourages people to check with their local tolling agency, report the messages as "junk" on their phones, and delete those.

FasTrak in the San Francisco Bay Area has issued warnings this year about bogus toll-bill notices.

In some cases, scammers are also using email and robocalls, reported  Consumers' Checkbook.

The scams are somewhat sloppy, as in some cases people who don't drive have gotten the texts, Foster said. Even in Oregon, which doesn't have state toll highways, transportation officials heard from some residents about phishing. (A local port district charges a toll for Bridge of the Gods and the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge in the Columbia River Gorge between Washington and Oregon.)

Last week a Seattle Times reporter spotted a suspicious notice on a relative's phone, though neither their phone number or license plate was registered at Good to Go! It purported to charge $4.15 for a "journey" in the Interstate 405 express toll lanes — an impossible figure, because I-405 tolls fluctuate in increments of 25 cents.

The scammers' link leads someplace that looks almost exactly like the genuine Good to Go! website, except it asks people to enter name and phone number, unlike the info WSDOT requests upfront. In addition, the page displays hyperlinks that don't respond to being clicked.

The modern toll industry casts a wide net, which may explain its appeal to impostors. Washington state collected $4.3 million in bona fide late fees and civil penalties in fiscal year 2023, to go with $196 million in toll revenue, from 63 million transactions over five highways.

Foster said WSDOT has not experienced data breaches that would have released drivers' phone numbers or toll information.

The state is also unaware of any Washington drivers losing money to the scam, though its staff found the scammers soliciting birth dates, presumably to enable identity thefts, Foster said.

Washington state sends toll bills only by postal mail, or by deducting funds from a driver's registered tolling debit account. WSDOT will send email notices that the account is low on funds, but doesn't bill people directly by email.

A driver's best defense is, when in doubt, to log into the genuine website where any alerts and bills will be posted.


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