Dear Mr. Miller:
The Theft Alert: Interesting how life works. Right after our water damage claim closed out someone tried to hit our home equity line of credit (HELOC) for a $130,000 withdrawal. I was having lunch one day when I received a call from my bank asking if I had authorized that withdrawal. I answered “No!” but I wasn’t really listening that much and thought the gentleman said that it was for a transfer of the money to my savings account. I wasn’t too worried about that as the money was going to be in one account or the other and it would all be straightened out in a day or two.
Then later that day I decided to check my online accounts. There was a $130,000 debit listed against my HELOC with no corresponding deposit in my savings account. Now, they had my interest. So I decided to check further and called the bank. Turns out I had heard wrong. The money was to be wire transferred out of the bank to somewhere else. The bank had put a stop on it after they spoke to me so I didn’t need to worry, but they were still investigating. Subsequently I found out that the bank had received wire transfer instructions purportedly from me requesting that the money be sent to somewhere in the Ft. Worth, Texas area. Other than catching connecting flights at the Dallas/Ft.Worth airport that is not a part of the country that I frequent very often–so it wasn’t me. The bank explained that the would-be thief had the HELOC account number, my phone numbers and address on the wire instructions. As to the last two pieces of information, that is readily available on a simple internet search for my name, assuming we are talking about my business contact information. If it was my cell phone number or home address that would take a bit more research. I won’t know which until the investigation is completed.
After the Fact Remediation: My understanding is that the bank turned this over to the FBI but I have not yet been contacted by law enforcement. Since no one really knows how much information that thief has on me, the bank suggested that I change my passwords for my online banking, email, etc. The bank, meanwhile was in the process of changing all of my account numbers.
Prevention: So what can you do? According to every article I read, first and foremost, create strong passwords (you know, something other than “password,” or “1234” or your birthdate) and have a different one for each online account that you have. Maybe you don’t need a different one for those that you don’t care that much if they get hacked (the alumni association, the garden club, etc) but definitely different ones for each financial institution (securities, bank accounts, credit card, etc). Then, if one institution has its records hacked (and that seemingly happens to some retailer, credit agency, etc. nearly every month) it doesn’t expose your accounts at other institutions. Of course, the big objection to all of this is that it makes life more complex and just how many passwords can a person remember. You could simply write them down on a piece of paper at your desk. That’s better than nothing. But if you want to be really good, well, that is where password vaults come in. Roboform, Dashlane, 1Password to name a few. Often times they are free with a paid version available with more features. Often available to you on your desktop, tablet, and phone. Most will generate a strong password for you with letters, numbers, and symbols.
Bank Account Numbers: As to the bank account numbers I’m not sure how important that is. After all, everyone who has received a check from me has the account number and bank routing number as it is prominently displayed on the check. I always hear don’t give out those numbers. In fact, as I was writing this article my wife inquired whether she should should send that information by text message to our son so he could deposit some money he owed her in her account. We both decided to wait until we see him in a few days. But I still am unsure why that is such a danger. The HELOC, well that’s different. I don’t write checks to anyone from that account so the numbers are not public. So where this scumbag obtained those numbers is a bit of a mystery, although I think I know and will be happy to share that with the FBI when, and if, they contact me.
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