I can tell you from firsthand experience that the current information available online regarding fraud and ID theft has not caught up with the tactics used by thieves. I am posting this now because the most recent scourge of fraud I experienced was related to the holidays…
7 Hot Fraud Trends
- Committing ACH fraud (doesn't require hacking anything, super easy to do and closing your account won't automatically stop the fraud)
- Hacking medical facilities such as doctor offices, dentist offices and urgent care clinics
- Hacking moving companies, mortgage loan providers and utility providers
- Armed with the information from #2 and #3 (sometimes using much less information), thieves can then take over your credit agency account
- Taking over your two-step verification and/or account recovery information (because you haven't set it up yet)
- Subscription services and purchases with common companies like Apple, Amazon and Verizon
- Committing fraud during the holidays and/or when you are moving and/or looking to buy a new house. This is when you are most vulnerable. Bless your soul if you happen to be doing all 3 at the same time.
Holiday Season Fraud
I won’t cover all seven fraud trends in this one article, but ‘tis the season, so I will cover holiday season fraud. The holiday season is one of the most likely times you will experience some form of account fraud or ID theft. They know people are busier than usual and have less time to check email, bank and credit card transactions. Spending time with relatives? Perfect! Travel, not having your password list with you, a forgotten laptop and family obligations help create huge windows of time for thieves to charge and charge and charge, uncontested. Thieves literally WAIT for this time of year. That email notification about a password change on your account might go unnoticed for a week or more. Over the holidays, people often buy presents from stores where they do not traditionally shop. Odd things come up on your account this time of year. By the time you realize that $350 charge was actually NOT something your spouse bought you for Christmas, it might be too late to have the costs refunded.
Fraud Targets: Mortgages and Moving
Already a 6+ year ID fraud victim, I worsened my situation greatly late last fall (2019). My wife and I were getting ready to move to another state. Once we got our feet on the ground, we planned to buy a new house. I wanted to pre-qualify for the mortgage. My wife, who is a real estate agent, put us in touch with one of her favorite loan officers who works for a medium to small size mortgage company (not one of the big names). Expecting the usual financial colonoscopy, I was given a bunch of forms to fill out with the instruction that a secure online portal would be created for us to upload the documents in a few days. Being impatient and overloaded with work, I provided more information than I thought they could possibly ever need and emailed a PDF of the completed documents directly to my wife’s friend, days in advance of the online portal being ready. I had a move to orchestrate among other things and didn’t want to deal with the 78-step loan prequalification process. Besides, the chances of it being intercepted and used for fraud we are incredibly low, right? It’s a direct email to someone my wife knows at a smaller company. Just in case, I deleted the email out of my sent folder and shredded the original documents. Well, you can guess what happened.
Understand this: credit reports and information pulled for mortgage applications are incredibly dangerous should someone intercept this type of information. They have years of history and will allow thieves to answer any identity challenge questions posed by credit agencies. Able to answer those questions, thieves can take over your entire credit history, indeed your very identity. To put it mildly, mortgage loan providers are a key target.
When you are moving, busy packing and living in a box maze for weeks unable to find your laptop and password info, thieves know this is the perfect time to strike. There are all kinds of charges hitting your account from vendors you don’t immediately recognize because you are moving. You expect high credit card bills the month you move anyway. Plus you have to leave your credit file unfrozen to get your utilities hooked up. As new addresses hit your credit file from all the fraudulent credit applications, the credit agencies don’t know which address is the correct one. Your real address is new too.
What You Can Do About It
Some of this I’m betting you’ve heard before. Some of it will probably be new information you will perceive to be “over the top” and 5 years ago, maybe it was. Read the full details about what is going on in my next few articles and I hope you change your mind. Over this holiday season:
- Know your passwords well enough to check your account activity frequently on your phone, especially the days directly before and after a holiday.
- If your phone has access to financial accounts, it should have a good password or PIN.
- Set up 2-step verification for all your financial accounts and cards, now, before thieves do it for you.
- Change the password to your primary email account (the one you use to reset forgotten financial passwords) and make it something difficult.
- Do not save the passwords to your email in your browser. Ever.
- Under security settings for your primary email account(s), utilize whatever backup email, secondary contact numbers, and “account rescue” information you are able (before thieves do it for you).
- Do not write checks to pay anyone, (this is one way to setup ACH fraud) with one possible exception…
- Fraudulent wiring instructions for down payments on a new house are becoming so common, maybe consider a certified bank check you personally drive to the closing attorney’s office (instead of an online transfer)? That may be the only check writing exception I can think of right now.
- Do not use your ATM debit card to pay for anything, even if you need cash back.
- Do not provide your social security number to urgent care, a doctor or a dentist office (yes, they will still see you).
- If your credit is frozen due to previous fraud, do not unfreeze your credit during the holidays to apply for a new credit card or a mortgage.
- If you are hiring a new accountant or applying for a mortgage during the holidays (bless your soul), make sure you ONLY use the secure pass-coded website portal to send financial information. Do not use email or fax for this.
- Do not accept or return phone calls from the IRS. The IRS contacts people via United States Postal Service, in writing, not via phone, no matter how urgent. A letter from the IRS may contain a phone number for you to call them and wait on hold until your butt grows roots.
- Do not accept or return phone calls from Microsoft, Apple, an anti-virus software provider or any other software company saying they have noticed suspicious activity on your computer (especially if they say it is urgent or your account is about to be suspended).
- Do not click on links in an email, even from friends, unless it’s a confirmation email you were specifically waiting on at that very moment. Type the website name directly into your browser.
- If you see unexplained charges for $1 or $2 that you did not initiate (even if they are refunded), your accounts have been compromised. Call your financial institution immediately.