After Equifax got hacked and cyberthieves stole data from more than 140 million accounts, what could be worse?
Enter the “zombie” bank account. I’m not making this up. Cybercriminals are setting up fake or “phantom” accounts to fleece even more unsuspecting folks.
When zombie accounts are opened for illicit purposes, “thieves will open accounts on behalf of the customer – without their authorization or knowledge – and those accounts can rack up late fees and other charges,” said Ken Tumin of DepositAccounts.com.
Although there are no precise numbers on how many zombie accounts are out there, they’re becoming easier to open because cyberthieves are becoming better at stealing financial data. So you have to pay attention to a number of things.
Here’s what Tumin recommends:
— “Pull a report from ChexSystems, a specialty consumer reporting agency. Like agencies that provide free credit reports, such as Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, ChexSystems will provide consumers with a free report once a year. A ChexSystems report will show activity on bank accounts that have been opened in your name.
— Check monthly bank statements for any activity you do not recognize. Better yet, monitor this information online or on your phone with a banking app. If there’s an account that’s created without your authorization, you might be able to see it online.
— Also look for money missing from your accounts, bills you do not recognize and incorrect information on credit reports, including balances that don’t match up or accounts you did not open.
— Consumers who notice any of these activities should notify their bank or financial institution right away. They should also consider putting a credit freeze on their credit report or setting up fraud alerts.”
All of these precautions are part of general cybersecurity advice: Keep an eye on all of your financial accounts. That means watching your credit card billings as well.
If you want to go one step further, set up “fraud alerts” with your credit card companies and banks. They will flag any suspicious activity and send you emails, texts and robo calls.
I’m a big fan of fraud alerts. When I was the victim of identity theft recently, my bank sent me a series of fraud alerts after someone pilfered my business credit card.
Although the latest fraud warnings weren’t perfect — they missed some fraudulent charges that I only spotted when I got my monthly bill — they prompted me to shut down my credit card and reverse some charges.
So stay on top of both your credit and banking accounts. You don’t have to pay for fraudulent charges, but you need to be vigilant to shut them down.