Just because a business claims to be a credit union doesn't mean it is. Michigan authorities have shut down a business claiming to be a credit union after banking officials charged it was actually a bold scam designed to steal money and identities.

The Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (OFIR) has ordered "Whitestone Credit Union" to cease and desist from doing business. The agency said it appears that Whitestone, through its website and telephone answering service, was posing as a legitimate credit union when it was anything but.

While banks' reputations have suffered over the last few years, many consumers tend to look with more favor on credit unions. Authorities believe scammers are increasingly trying to exploit that trust.

"It looks like these scammers were posing as a legitimate credit union in order to obtain information used in identity theft," OFIR Commissioner Ken Ross said. "Consumers are encouraged to call OFIR if they believe they have discovered one of these classic phishing scams."

Ross says the fraudulent financial institution was encouraging customers to apply for loans by providing personal information including social security and financial account numbers. Whitestone's website is currently shutdown.

The agency urged consumers to develop a face-to-face or personal relationship with a financial institution before entering into a business contract. Prior to opening an account at an Internet bank or credit union, consumers are encouraged to call their state bank regulators to verify the institution is legitimate.

In 2007 the Credit Union National Association warned consumers that an email phishing scheme was falsely using the organization's name to collect personal information. The scam, the group said, was seeking to exploit credit unions' standing among consumers.

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