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August 19, 2013


Curbing Identity Theft and Fraud

To no one's surprise, identity theft and associated fraud losses rose again in 2012. The number of victims climbed to more than 12 million last year, an 11 percent increase over 2011, according to the recently released Javelin 2013 Identity Fraud Report. Losses amounted to almost $21 billion.

Identity Theft Victims and Fraud Amounts

A quick distinction between identity theft and identity fraud: identity theft is when an unauthorized person obtains personal information about an individual, and identity fraud occurs when someone uses that personal information, without the individual's consent, to conduct financial transactions.

Two types of identity theft drove the overall increase: new-account identity and account takeover fraud.

New-account identity fraud takes a number of different forms. The most common form occurs with credit card applications. Someone creates an account using another person's information and makes purchases to the maximum limit, then allows the account to go into default. The next most common type happens with new checking accounts. The fraudster opens up a checking account using false identification credentials, then deposits bad or bogus checks and quickly cashes out.

The prevention of new-account identity fraud rests primarily on the shoulders of the financial institution (FI). What are the steps that FIs can take to help reduce the levels of these types of fraud? They are already required to authenticate the identities of new account applicants to the extent reasonable and practical under the Bank Secrecy Act's Customer Identification Program. The fraudster's goal when opening a fraudulent account is to minimize the verification process and quickly establish the new account. Experienced criminals can falsify government-issued IDs without too much difficulty. The FI representatives authenticating new accounts must rely on their experience and on a number of other factors to detect fraudulent attempts—but it can be difficult to balance the need to authenticate applicants with the wish, and the institutional push, to be polite and welcoming.

Many FIs order abbreviated credit reports as part of the new account process so they can better market credit products to qualified applicants. An address on the credit report that differs from the one on the application or the report showing a rash of new credit inquiries should sound warning bells, and such discrepancies would justify additional verification. Other warning signs include applicants having to read the information from their identification documents rather than reciting it from memory, or incorrect social security numbers, or newly issued identification documents.

Most fraudulent new accounts are opened online or through call centers. In these cases, the subsequent new-customer authentication process is critical. Although individuals can use their own, legitimate credentials to commit new account fraud, industry reports suggest it is much more common for fraudulent accounts to be opened with fraudulent credentials.

As to account takeover fraud, as we have stressed on many occasions, the most critical action that FIs can engage in is frequent customer education through electronic and print media and community and customer seminars. In a recent post on phishing, we outlined a number of steps that FIs should remind individuals to follow to minimize the possibility of having their accounts and identity credentials compromised.

We would like to hear from you as to ways your institution is combating new-account identity and account takeover fraud.

Photo of David LottBy David Lott, a retail payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Atlanta Fed

August 19, 2013 in account takeovers, authentication, banks and banking, consumer fraud, identity theft | Permalink

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