By Casey Snyder

In the last year, many of us have been stuck at home, working remotely, paying bills, brokering deals, and purchasing goods to have them shipped directly to our house rather than risking the trip to the grocery store or any retail environment. So, to keep up with the “outside world,” we’ve gone digital. And with that, our personal information is flying around more than it ever has before. 

We’re still conducting business and keeping the economy alive; it just looks different. But be mindful… Regardless of how secure a platform is, if you’re working through digital transactions, you’re compromising the safety of your personal information. 

In the spirit of this, I thought I’d share a personal experience from which we can all learn.

Subject to fraud 

On a Saturday night in February, I received a personal email informing me that the email address I had on file with Experian had been changed. I figured it was a phishing scam by hackers, who often cast a wide net trying to trap people into turning over their personal information to remediate an “issue.” That said, it was a big red flag because I knew I’d never changed that piece of information. 

Upon trying to log in to my account to reset my password as a precaution, I immediately realized I wasn’t able to log in. Whoever had stolen my identity had reconfigured my Experian account to the point that I couldn’t do anything with it. 

So, that same night, I set up a one-year fraud alert through their online platform and resolved to call on Monday when Experian’s offices were open. 

The next day I received a voicemail from Bank of America informing me that someone had tried to open up a line of credit in my name. I immediately thought this was fraudulent too— we’re all used to these types of obnoxious voicemail scams. But I’d been spooked by the Experian experience from the day before, so I looked up Bank of America’s fraud department contact information so I could contact them directly. I somehow wound up in a department affiliated with Merrill Lynch, who checked their database to see if anything had been opened in my name. They saw nothing and told me not to worry about it because they typically don’t leave voicemails like the one I was describing. 

Now I could relax, right? 

Wrong.

A week later, a letter arrived from Bank of America communicating the same message as the strange voicemail. The letter was asking me to confirm the activity, telling them if it was indeed me trying to open a new line of credit. In response, I called the number listed in the letter and the customer support agent simply said, "Yes, someone is impersonating you. They have all your information."

What a nightmare.

To recap

Had I not set up a fraud alert in response to the suspicious activity on my Experian account, I would have had no idea about the ensuing attempt to open a new line of credit—a Bank of America Visa card through Alaska Air—in my name. 

The first lesson here is to check to confirm that fraudulent sounding messages are indeed fraudulent. I think a lot of us just send any of these lines of communication straight to the trash bin. 

Even in being proactive, it took a week and a half to deny this attempt. I can’t imagine what that timeline would look like if the fraudulent activity actually came to fruition.

We are trained in ways to minimize and negate fraud here at The Sedoric Group. It's not something I’ve ever feared because we actively take courses on it to protect our clients from fraud daily. The hardest thing is determining what's real and what isn’t. My experience, where I initially dismissed a real voicemail thinking it was a fraud, is a prime example of that.

Experian reported in January 2021 that: 

  • One in 20 Americans are exposed to identity theft each year
  • 13 million consumers in the U.S. were affected by identity fraud in 2019
  • Total documented fraud losses were estimated at nearly $17 billion
  • Consumers paid $3.5 billion out-of-pocket for costs related to identity theft
  • One in five consumers have fallen victim to pandemic-related scams 

There’s a lot of great information available from Experian which you should take the time to check out, starting right here

One final thought related to Experian's research was that one in 10 consumers stated that they planned to make enrolling in a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service a financial New Year's resolution for 2021.

10%. 

That number ought to be a lot higher, but too many of us have adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset. If identity theft hasn’t happened to us directly, we often don’t take the time to believe it or consider the repercussions of it happening to us one day. 

Protect your financial security today

I’m here to tell you not to wait. Set up fraud alerts. It’s your first and only sure-fire way of defending yourself against financial fraud. 

Experiencing identity theft and having your social security number and date of birth in the hands of someone looking to commit fraud is a frightening proposition, but, I will say, it's hard to make actual money transfers with that information. It’s extremely difficult for a hacker to steal existing money unless they have direct access to it. One way a hacker could gain access is if you’re using a debit card to conduct online business transactions. That’s a clear-cut path right to your bank account. If you’re going to make purchases online, use a credit card, which often has more robust security features built-in, as well as different legal protections. 

More often than not, the attempt to commit fraud is the exact experience I just went through, which is to open credit under one person's name and have access to the funds that come from that effort.

The reality is that your information is out there for anyone to access if they try. It’s just the way it is, given all the different databases you’re in—from purchases you’ve made, to healthcare systems, and beyond.

What you need to do is be prepared and be aware. You don't need to shut down your credit profile or lock your credit. If you're older and everything is paid off, it might make sense. But not for someone who's in their 40's and has a mortgage and uses credit to pay for things. 

These people committing fraud are slick. That doesn’t mean you need to be intimidated by them. It was smart of them to block me out of my credit account before they tried to secretly open up new charge accounts. It was smarter yet that I set up the fraud alert when I did. Had I not, I’d still be up to my eyeballs in remediation efforts and wouldn’t have had the time to write this post. 

Set up fraud alerts on your accounts. Protect your financial security and save yourself some time and headache, in the event your identity is eventually compromised.