November 2010

Watching out for fraud

It can occur where you least expect it.

Has your financial institution recently asked you to replace your debit card because it may no longer be secure? This is happening more and more frequently and it indicates just how vigilant card issuers must be, as well as the sophisticated means they are now using to spot cloning and other fraudulent activity..

Unfortunately, financial fraud is now widespread, and digital technology has made it even more pernicious.

Does danger really lurk everywhere?

While there’s no need for paranoia, it is important to know where the danger lies in order to take preventive action. Financial institutions have limited liability and we all have to take the necessary precautions, or else risk some unpleasant surprises.

Exactly what kind of danger are we talking about? There are three basic types:

•   Theft of bank account access codes
Thieves get into your bank accounts, either through the Internet or by cloning your debit card, and they use your money to pay for their transactions.

•   Identity theft
People use your personal information to obtain credit, usually at a retailer, and you get the bill.

•   Telecommunication piracy (computers, telephones, etc.)
Fraud artists get into your system and use it for their purposes. With phone systems, for example, they take control of your lines and make long-distance calls that get charged to you.

Is the threat that serious?

Each type of fraud may seem easy to prevent, but it’s a sizable challenge when you consider the many places and situations that put you at risk.

Some basic precautions

Nobody can ever be completely fraud proof, but there are some basic steps you can take to prevent some of the worst from happening.

•   Pay attention to your mail.
Fraudsters can get hold of your mail before you receive it. If a statement doesn’t arrive at its usual time, contact the issuer. Consider replacing your mailbox with one that locks.

•   Watch your waste.
Shred all documents that have your name, address or other personal information on them, particularly credit card application forms and your expired credit cards. Never put anything with personal information in the recycling bin.

•   Don’t give out information to just anyone.
Retailers need only your money. If a merchant asks for your address, postal code or driver’s license, take your business elsewhere.

•   Never respond to email requests.
Your financial institution will never ask you to confirm information by email. Delete any such emails immediately, even if it has the right logo and the address seems perfectly legitimateThis practice is known as phishing.

•   Change your access codes.
We’re always being told to do this regularly, but we all have so many codes and passwords, it seems like an impossible task. At least do it for your bank cards. Fraud artists can access your codes remotely while you are at an ATM. Changing your code frequently makes life more difficult for them. As for your online codes and passwords, consider using secure services that generate your passwords for you, so that you don’t have to memorize them all and change them one at a time.

•   Check your credit file.
You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit file every year. If fraudsters have used your identity to obtain credit, you’ll be able to spot the abnormal activity. See our previously published article on this subject

Asset misappropriation

In addition to these daily risks, there are, of course, the swindlers and Ponzi schemers who pretend to be investing your hard-earned money but in fact are using it for their own purposes.. Always make sure that anyone who approaches you with investment recommendations is duly recognized by the regulatory authorities, has a spotless record, and is affiliated with a trustworthy institution.

Last but not least, keep in mind that no dignitary from Nigeria or any other African nation needs access to your bank account for any reason other than to empty it!