Posted by: Eddie | August 15, 2009

Identity Theft: Thanks to BofA for Catching It!

Thanks to Bank of America’s vigilance, I found out last night that I was the victim of identity theft, both online and in person. They have the person in custody, and are helping me to undo the online transactions they did as well.  Here’s the story:

Friday night I was just getting home from work when someone from Bank of America called because someone in South Carolina was claiming to be me and trying to withdraw some money from my account.  The guy was still in the branch waiting while they checked, and once they talked to me they were able to have him arrested.  Evidently between the fact he was so far from my home (he tried to claim “I” was on vacation), and he had a Russian accent, they got suspicious.  He wasn’t too happy about being in custody: from what they said he had a plane ticket back to Russia for the next day.

In addition, they had made a ‘payment’ of $1000 from my account to another one in the BofA system, which BofA were able to immediately reverse once they found the fraud.

Even more disturbing, they had used some other online service to get authenticated in BofA’s system (rather than directly logging in as me) and transfer about $5000 from my reserve credit account to my checking account, and then a day later withdrew the exact same amount via  a Chase Bank “payment” out of my account.  If I didn’t check individual transactions it could have gone quite awhile before I’d have noticed it since my checking account balance would have seemed to stay the same.  Since another bank is involved in this transaction, I have to go through a slightly longer process to get the money back, but that’s already in the works.

I talked to someone in their fraud prevention and investigation unit, and from what he was finding out by tracing things online, in addition to the guy trying the “in person” fraud, there was someone in New Jersey and someone else in New York participating in this group, so they were geographically diverse, although evidently all Russian.  He seemed thrilled that the police actually had someone in custody.  I’m sure he doesn’t often get that sort of immediate satisfaction in knowing the people committing the fraud were being caught.

I later got a call from a police detective who’s following up on the case, and he just verified my height, weight, and that I indeed was NOT in South Carolina, so they’re actively pursuing the investigation too.

I then had to go through a whole series of steps to make sure no other as yet undiscovered activities were out there, and to prevent future occurrences.  Several banks created a company called ITAC (Identity Theft Assistance  Center), and when you’re the victim of identity theft they have a free service to immediately get copies of your credit report from all 3 major credit bureaus, and they then review every single listed open account you have on the phone with you, as well as review any queries received in the last 6 months or so.  All my open accounts seemed fine, but the two queries I had didn’t sound familiar, so they’ve flagged those for further investigation.

They have a website you can go to, and they offer other services. I haven’t looked into their other services (which DO have a fee), but I greatly appreciate the free and thorough credit report review they took me through as a victim of identity theft. They also had me confirm I’m willing to help and participate in the ongoing investigation.

In addition, I called Chex Systems at 888-478-6536 to have myself flagged so any new accounts being opened in affiliated banks and other institutions will be alerted to past fraud, and I also called 888-567-8688 to opt-out of receiving any free pre-approved credit card offers. (Something everyone should consider doing: it not only cuts down on junk mail, but reduces the opportunities for identity thieves to get access to easy credit under your name.)

And, needless to say, all my checking and savings accounts have been frozen for the weekend, and I’ll have to go in Monday to open new accounts, get the money moved over, and then deal with all the auto-payment options that will now start failing until I point them to the new accounts.

In the end I am very pleased with Bank of America’s acting quickly and actually helping catching the person in the act, and for quickly identifying and reversing (or at least starting the process to reverse) the online transactions.

This just goes to show that even if you are very careful with your identity information and online activities, there’s always some way for the clever thief to find ways to access your account, and there’s always someone brazen enough to try strolling into a bank pretending to be you. I’m just glad they were caught in my case!

The moral of the story: don’t assume your cautious behavior protects you, and keep a CLOSE eye on your accounts, on a weekly basis.

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