Identity Theft & Fraud on the Rise: How to Protect Yourself

Posted on 9/15/2019

Identity theft and fraud can be devastating, and these crimes have become more widespread over the past few years. If a criminal gains access to your personal or financial information, your accounts and good name can be ruined, along with your peace of mind. 

Preventing identity theft and fraud starts with education and Needham Bank is always here to support your financial education needs. Consider these online and banking security topics to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is identity fraud?

Fraud occurs when thieves create fake accounts and steal money using a real person’s name and information obtained without consent. While overall fraud rates declined last year—good news after reaching record highs in 2017—fraudsters are getting smarter, causing a higher percentage of victims to pay out of pocket and never see that money again. Nearly a quarter of fraud victims had unreimbursed personal expenses in 2018, three times as many as the year before, according to the 2019 Identity Fraud study by Javelin.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person attempts to use your bank account or personal information to open a new account, apply for a loan in your name or engage in another fraudulent act. Massachusetts saw nearly 6,400 complaints of identity theft in 2018, according to the Insurance Information Institute. There are several types of identity theft:

1. Account takeover fraud

Account takeover fraud has surged in recent years, particularly on mobile devices. This type of identity theft occurs when criminals use a victim’s personal information, often from a data breach, to change the victim’s account information or add themselves as a new user to the account. 

With access to a victim’s bank account, they can take over credit card accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts or brokerage accounts. Criminals conceal their activities by updating the email addresses and contact information within the accounts so no red flags are raised. Identity thieves mainly use the following information to commit account takeover fraud: 

  • Bank account login information (username, password, PIN)
  • Social Security number
  • Email address

2. New account fraud

New account fraud, which resulted in $3.4 billion in losses in 2018, occurs within three months of an account having been opened. Criminals open a new account in someone else’s name to commit fraud, such as depositing and withdrawing stolen or counterfeit checks. Often, the victim’s information is obtained from a data breach. Most people find out they’ve been a victim of this type of fraud when they review their credit reports and notice discrepancies, or if they receive call from debt collectors. 

3. Card-not-present fraud

Most credit card fraud is now happening online. This is known as card-not-present fraud and often occurs as a result of hacking, phishing or skimming when card information is given remotely. Criminals committing card-not-present fraud can access and use your card information without ever having the card in hand.

This is a growing threat, as the transition to embedded chip cards has made it more difficult to commit credit card fraud in person. Card-not-present fraud now outweighs card-present, point-of-sale fraud by 81%, according to a 2018 study by Javelin.

How to protect yourself from identity theft & fraud 

Protecting your identity is essential to keeping your personal information safe. Be vigilant in safeguarding valuable information like your Social Security number, PIN, bank account logins and passwords. Also, be careful with paper documents—shred them or opt for paperless statements. Never share your sensitive information with anyone, and keep important documents locked up in a safe. Here are a few other tips to prevent identity theft:

  • If a “bank” calls you asking for payment information, do not provide it. Banks don’t initiate calls you didn’t ask for. Instead, hang up and call your bank to verify. If the call wasn’t from your bank, the bank can place a fraud alert on your account. 
  • Review your credit report at least every year to identify new accounts you didn’t open and any suspicious transactions. You are legally entitled to one free credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months from annualcreditreport.com
  • If you lose your credit or debit card, report it immediately. Also, check your accounts frequently for suspicious charges, and report them ASAP. A good way to keep tabs on your account is to set up account alerts through NB Online & Mobile Banking
  • Don’t choose the same password for multiple accounts. Select a hard-to-guess password with a combination of symbols, upper and lowercase letters and numbers. A good way to remember a password like this is to spell out and abbreviate a longer sentence, using the first letter of each word, a comma, a year and a special character. For example, “I love to eat cookies at night, 1983!” would result in a password of, “Iltecan,1983!” Using unique passwords helps promote online security and make it harder for hackers to target you.
  • Only buy online from secure websites that encrypt their data using Secure Socket Layers (SSL). Look for “https” protocol at the beginning of the URL to indicate the site is secure. Once you’ve made a purchase online, be sure to end your session by logging out of the website. 

Is Needham Bank a secure site?

Securing your personal information is of the utmost importance to us at Needham Bank. When visiting our website, needhambank.com, you’ll see “https” in the web address and/or a padlock to the left of our name. 

internet address bar with green lock indicating secure site.

Needham Bank uses SSL to encrypt and protect sensitive information, including credit card numbers, online banking login information and other secure data. A simple way to remember the difference between a secure website and one that’s not is that the “s” in “https” stands for security. 

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of fraud, please contact us immediately at 1-800-264-5578. You can learn more here about secure online banking at Needham Bank and how to protect yourself against fraud. We also recommend setting up account alerts to keep tabs on your account activity.