Picture this scenario – you receive a phone call from your bank asking if you purchased something for $215.63 from an online retailer yesterday. You confirm that no, you did not. Your bank tells you that it appears as if you have been the victim of fraud and identity theft and that they will reverse the charges after an investigation is placed on your account.
The bank suggests that you go to your local branch and change your Personal Identification Number (PIN) and your online banking password. They give you no further information regarding what you should do and how you should protect yourself. You hang up the phone feeling violated and anxious. What steps should you take to protect yourself? What do you need to do immediately to avoid further invasion of privacy?
My daughter recently experienced fraud on her account – the thieves accessed her account through her online banking and went shopping. It would seem, based on her experience, that banks have few procedures in place to help their clients during this very stressful time. There are steps to recover from financial fraud and prevent identity theft:
1. If you notice any charges that weren’t authorized by yourself (or the other party/parties on a joint account), contact your bank immediately.
2. Contact Equifax and Transunion immediately. By contacting both of Canada’s major credit reporting agencies, you can put alerts on your credit files. This means that before your credit report can be released to anyone, you will be contacted first to verify that you are consenting to the report. Therefore, if someone tries to open up a credit account in your name, you will know immediately.
Due to the alerts, the credit reporting agencies will also be watching your account closely for any strange activity. Through the credit reporting agencies, you can purchase online programs that allow you to monitor your credit report. This lets you note any changes to your report and be aware of any inaccuracies immediately.
3. Pull your credit report. When you contact both credit reporting agencies to alert them of the fraud on your account, inquire about pulling your own bureau. You are entitled to one free credit report per year if you send in your application via Canada Post. Alternatively, you can purchase your report and have immediate access to it.
When you receive your report, review it for any inaccuracies or suspicious accounts and report them to Equifax and Transunion. Pull your credit report every month or two for the first while after the fraud – yes, it will cost money, but your piece of mind is priceless. Contrary to popular belief, pulling your own report will NOT impact your credit rating.
4. File a complaint with the appropriate authorities. The website Canadian Anti Fraud Centre is a great resource for preventing or reporting fraud. It is also a good idea to open up a police file in your area, especially in case the situation escalates.
If you choose to not report it, make sure that you have all of the details of the fraud (how, who, where, when, why) written down in a secure location. It also is a good idea to save the bank statements that show the fraudulent transactions and any reversals that are done on your account(s).
5. Change your PIN, online banking passwords, account numbers, and client card. Depending on how the fraud occurred (through your credit card, online banking, debit card), you may have to change one or all of these things on your account. Changing your account numbers and ordering new cards is a pain, but it is truly the only way to stop the fraud from occurring again by the same people. If your bank seems hesitant to take these steps with you, stay firm, or, go to a new bank that takes your security seriously.
6. Ensure that your computer is protected. Committing fraud via your online banking is not easy, but it can be done. Make sure that the computer where you check your account online, as well as make purchases online with your credit card, is protected against potential fraud.
Use accredited payment companies, such as PayPal, to make payments for purchases. Trust your gut when making purchases online. Have an online security system set up to catch viruses or spyware programs.
7. Pay with cash whenever possible. One way to avoid fraud on your accounts is to pay for purchases with cash. The less you use your cards, the harder it is for anyone to steal your credit card information or PIN. Be sure to keep your receipts though – obviously with cash, you have no electronic proof of purchases like you do with your credit card and bank card.
8. When you receive an email or phone call from your bank, be cautious. Many people assume that when they receive an email or phone call from their bank, that they are safe to reply or take the call. In reality, you have no way of knowing who is on the other end of the computer or phone. If you receive an email that asks you to click on a link and then input personal information, don’t do it! If you receive a call from your bank and the caller begins to ask you for personal information, tell them that you will call the bank’s main line back (which you can find on the bank’s website).
The Golden Rule:
You have the right to refuse to answer any questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Always remember this golden rule: If you are calling a company, it is generally safe to answer security or personal questions (within reason!). If the company is calling you, be cautious about releasing any personal information. Remember – they have called you, so they should already have your personal information in front of them. If in doubt, go to the bank’s website or look on the back of your client card and retrieve the phone number(s) or email contacts directly and contact them back.
9. If your bank is not supportive or helpful, remember that you have power, too. You are a customer of the bank – you pay them to take care of your money. Unfortunately, we often forget that as consumers, we hold the power in our relationships with companies. You have the option of leaving your bank if you are unsatisfied with their level of service or feel that they are not assisting you.
Protect Your Money:
It is important, especially when fraud has been committed on your account(s), that you feel confident in your bank’s ability to protect your money and security. Yes, it is a pain to change over all of your accounts and develop a new relationship with a different bank; however, it is a small price to pay if you feel that your bank has made things less than easy on you. Remember, you are the victim of fraud, not the perpetrator – you should be treated accordingly.
Fraud leaves you feeling vulnerable and insecure and those feelings take a long time to subside. Do yourself a favour and take action immediately – if you are struggling or overwhelmed with the procedures of reporting and clearing up the fraud, enlist help from your bank or your spouse. Remember that resolving fraud is a process and there are tangible steps that you can take to protect yourself from further issues. You may have been a victim of fraud, but you have the power to take control of the situation and prevent it from happening again.