It’s tempting to ignore and toss mail from banks and other financial institutions, especially those at which you have no accounts.
But the following happened to my sister and brother-in-law recently: they got a Wells Fargo Visa debit card in the mail, saying it was linked to a particular account they had opened. They then got a mailing from the Wells Fargo Fraud Prevention Contact Center, telling them that the account had just been canceled.
My relatives do no business with this bank, so they called the Wells fraud department and were told what they were looking at was an apparent case of identity theft. They were lucky, though, because no fraudulent transactions had been made.
Why would someone open up this kind of fake bank account?
“It’s primarily to launder money/commit fraud, from what I’ve seen,” says Mona Terry, vice-president of victim services for the Identity Theft Resource Center. (idtheftcenter.org)
In particular, such accounts might be used to deposit the fruits of unemployment fraud, which is the most common type of fraud involving misuse of Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses that the organization is currently seeing, Terry says.
For that reason, keep an eye out for notices regarding unemployment in your name, she says.
Also, check with Early Warning Services, ChexSystems or TeleCheck to see if any other bank accounts have been opened in your name, Terry says.
The biggest concern about this kind of surprise bank account is that the perpetrator has your Social Security number and possibly, your driver’s license.
If this happens to you, call the bank immediately so it can close the account.
Check your credit report to see about any other fraudulent activity and then order a freeze to prevent new credit or lending accounts from being opened.
A recent study co-authored by the resource center found that only 3% of those surveyed imposed a free credit freeze after learning that their personal information was hacked.
Don’t be one of them.
A credit freeze is considered one of the most effective steps to protect against identity theft. It remains in place until you remove it. It does restrict you from opening a new credit account, but it can be lifted temporarily without charge.
It won’t be a surprise to those who follow the news: ransomware-related data breaches are expected to become the No. 1 type of data breach this year nationwide, the Identity Theft Resource Center says.
Such attacks, in which hackers encrypt computer files and demand a ransom to unlock them, are expected to surpass phishing as the “root cause” of data compromises.
Ransomware has hit two local New Mexico governments in recent weeks: Albuquerque Public Schools and Bernalillo County. And both caused a major disruption in services.
APS was forced to cancel classes for two days when its student information system was breached. And Bernalillo County was forced to close some buildings and halt legal filings with the Clerk’s Office after it was hit by such an attack.
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.