How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft and Financial Fraud

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft and Financial Fraud

Although there are many forms of cyber-related identity theft and financial fraud prevalent in our society today, the main threat, by far, for the average person out there is called Account Takeover Fraud. It is important to know what you can do to protect yourself from identity theft and financial fraud.

Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s information in some way that involves fraud or deception. Typically, these crimes are committed for economic gain.


Account Takeover Fraud is a type of financial identity theft that generally means using another person’s account information (for example, a credit card number, a bank account, or even an investment account) to obtain products and services through that person’s existing accounts. Most commonly this crime includes extracting funds from a person’s bank account. Account numbers are often found in the trash, hacked online, stolen out of the mail, lifted from wallets and purses, or observed in-person by someone looking over the victim’s shoulder while checking account information. Thieves may also directly access individual accounts online, over the phone, or through the mail. Nowadays, people are even receiving very genuine-looking text messages from impostors acting as the victim’s actual financial institution, such as their bank or credit card company.


With such a high level of sophistication, combined with our busy lives, how can we recognize fraud when it is so convincing?

Thankfully, there are two common characteristics prevalent in nearly every fraud attempt, which are as follows:

First, the thieves must obtain some form of personal information from you, which typically involves the following:

  • Account Number,
  • Birthdate,
  • Social Security Number,
  • Credit Card Number,
  • An existing Security Word, PIN, or Password, and
  • Even a One-Time Password.
    • If you receive a one-time passcode you did not initiate, please do not provide the code to
      anyone who contacts you requesting it.

Second, the thieves always create a sense of urgency. They put pressure on you to act now such as:

  • Login to your accounts “NOW” to prevent further damage!
  • Text us back “IMMEDIATELY!”
  • Call this number “AS SOON AS YOU CAN!”


Victims are often the first to detect account takeover when they discover charges on monthly statements they did not authorize, funds depleted from existing accounts, or a check bounces due to a compromised bank account. Therefore, you are your first line of defense.

To prevent yourself from falling into the fraudulent trap and protect yourself from identity theft and financial fraud:

  • Never give out your personal information — especially on phone calls, texts, or email correspondence you did not initiate.
  • Next, take a pause.
    • If you have not divulged any personal info during your current conversation with someone, do not let that person pressure you into acting immediately.
    • Hang up, if you are on the phone, and call your financial institution directly.
    • Get the institution involved and be sure you are speaking to the legitimate enterprise.

Here are some other things that you can do to protect yourself against account takeover fraud:

  • Create unique, complex passwords, for each account and device.
    • A strong password includes a dozen letters, numbers, and symbols.
    • Or you can create a long passphrase, which would be hard for a criminal to guess, but easier for you to remember.
    • Change your password if you suspect the account has been compromised.
    • Use multi-factor authentication when given the option.
  • Monitor your financial accounts and credit report and report suspicious activity immediately.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi for banking or other important activity, and if you have to, then use a VPN when possible.
  • Lock your mailbox if possible and collect your mail frequently.
  • Choose paperless billing when possible, so your account information does not get sent to your mailbox.
    • You can also opt out of receiving prescreened offers in the mail.
  • Shred mail and important documents before discarding them, and lock up sensitive documents that you must keep.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
  • Use websites that are secure.
    • The URL will start with an “https” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
  • Do not click links, open attachments, or respond to emails from unfamiliar or untrusted sources.
    • These may contain malware.
    • Check the sender’s email address – many times it may look as if it is coming from a trusted source, but there can be small, telling signs that it is not, such as a letter missing or transposed.
    • Look for grammatical errors that may indicate someone is not a native English speaker.
  • Set up alerts on your banking and credit card accounts.
    • For example, your bank may notify you each time there is a withdrawal from your checking account.

Please Note: Account Identity Theft is the reason that at Runey & Associates, we never take email instructions to undergo financial transactions. We always confirm instructions by some type of verbal or standing confirmation from our clients.


Reporting identity theft can help law enforcement bring criminals to justice and help keep your information safe. If you have been affected by identity theft, first contact any business where you know the fraud took place. Next, contact at least one of the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. Once you request an initial fraud alert, the credit bureau is legally required to communicate it to the other
two bureaus. You may also want to consider freezing your credit reports, which limits access to new credit lines.

Then report the identity theft to the authorities. The Federal Trade Commission’s website, https://identitytheft.gov, can provide you with a personalized recovery plan, guidance, progress tracking, and prefilled forms and letters. You can also report the crime by phone at 877-438-4338.

Also report the identity theft to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at https://www.ic3.gov. The Bureau tracks information and distributes it to law enforcement officers who can investigate and search for patterns. This helps the government understand these types of crimes and stop them from happening in the future.