A hacked bank account…basically identity theft. You may not ever think it will happen to you. It can't happen to you, can it? It only happens to those other people, right? Or maybe the DNC, or Target stores, or someone who is really, really careless about their information, or I just dunno…anyone but me!
Well hello. Wake up call, it has happened to me. I got hacked and boy does that send chills though my system. I got the call, literally, the wakeup call just last week and it was not fun. For the past 9 days I’ve been in a mental turmoil here wondering who, what, when, where, and why? How could this happen to me?
So here's the situation. I’m about as conservative as you can be at this point in my life with my money. I mean, I take care of it about the same way as you take care of a baby. I don’t take risks anymore and I watch it all the time to be sure it’s safe and protected. It’s not that I have always been like this, but now that my earning years from my career are behind me, the money I have now is for retirement and that means I’m just very careful.
This hack occurred with my accounts at a major online bank. It’s a bank that you would recognize instantly and hear about almost every day all over the place. In fact, they have been around for a long time and I have had accounts with them for over a decade. I originally started there with an IRA account and then expanded to an internet savings account when brick and mortar bank interest rates dropped to almost nil. Internet banks were offering much better rates and still are these days. So I went there. It was fast, easy and I didn’t do a whole lot except make transfers in and out every so often. It was the parking place for my short-to-medium term savings and my emergency fund. So over the past 10 years, I managed to accumulate a half dozen accounts and earn some interest and security. Then it happened.
I got a call from the bank that my account information had been hacked and that someone had opened a new checking account and transferred part of my savings into it. Then the big bomb: they tried to withdraw funds from the checking account and somehow the bank fraud team caught it just as it was going down. They stopped it and called me. First, they verified who I was with a barrage of questions. Then they asked me if I had changed all my basic account information, my e-mail address, my password and my PIN number and if I was the person who requested this new account and debit card. And so the adventure began.
Hell is Your Accounts Frozen Over
They explained to me that there was a freeze placed on my accounts while the fraud team investigates what happened. My money is still safe and it’s totally protected by the bank. That did make me feel a little better but suddenly, I realized that the accounts were tied up while all of this was going on and that I had no access to any of it for who knows how long. They told me to wait a few days and they would contact me with more information. I waited, because what else could I do?
That’s when the “fun” began. After 3 days, I called to see where we were at in resolving the issue. I called the number I had been given and got that old familiar refrain that you hear whenever you call anyplace these days. You know the one. “Your call is very important to us; please hold yada, yada, yada…” So I remained on hold 20, 30, 45 minutes before I gave up. I tried again later. Same result. I tried one of several numbers that I found. All with that same result. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…same result. I was starting to wonder, was this part of the scam? Is there really a bank checking on my accounts?
Finally, after 4 freakin’ days, I got through and spoke to real live human being. Hallelujah! All the while, no access to my accounts and feeling kind of like a victim of the crime of the century (am I overreacting here?…maybe a tad). Here’s what I found out. The process to restore my control over my accounts takes a bit of time (and required some additional information from me). You see, there are 2 types of hack jobs that do this kind of thing. Here’s what I was told.
Hacked Bank Accounts 101
The first kind of scammer simply hacks into your account and somehow gets to reset your password and obtain your account information. They then set up a new account and have access to transferring funds from your existing account(s). Then, they withdraw it, in my case the attempt was via an online transfer request. They get your money and then they simply disappear. You’re basically screwed.
Scammer number 2 is even more diabolical and dangerous. He not only does what scammer number 1 does, but he somehow installs some kind of malware on your computer or device. This virus is so sophisticated that anytime you go into your account and make a change, like a new password or PIN, the scammer is alerted and gets an update so that he still can access your account. That occurs even after you have done all the fraud recovery and changes with the bank and its procedures. It requires a lot of changes to be made like new account numbers and email addresses etc. And it takes time to process.
So here I am. I feel a little like I'm in a Rod Serling “Twilight Zone” episode. I’m in the middle of the recovery and I feel like I will eventually gain control back over my accounts. Hopefully it will be soon. But it has been a bumpy ride.
What You Can Do
It has made me angry, but it has also made me much more cognizant of being prepared for this kind of personal invasion. It took it out of a headline and made it real. I need to know what to do, who to call, and how to make sure that my information is as well protected as it can be. I need to be aware of the potential dangers and so do you. Could I have prevented it? Maybe, maybe not. But having the information at my fingertips and knowing what to do is important.
- Start with a strong password. Preferably one that has letters, numbers, and symbols, has no recognizable words or names, and hasn't been used on another account. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, use password management software. To check the strength of your password, try this password tester. For maximum security, change your passwords from time to time.
- Use both anti-virus and anti-malware software and scan your system regularly.
- Stay up to date with software updates and patches. Older versions may have vulnerabilities.
- Before downloading anything, check to see that it's from a reputable site and from the official source.
- Before responding to any e-mails, know that you will never be asked for your password via e-mail and be careful of clicking any links sent to you. Phishing attempts where the hackers pretend to be your bank and get the information directly from you happen all the time.
- Be sure that your home Wi-Fi has a secure password. When using public Wi-Fi, don't log into any sensitive accounts.
- Check to see if any of your existing accounts have been compromised in a data breach using a service like have I been pwned?
- Review your banking accounts regularly to look for any unexpected activity. I was lucky the fraud team found it first, but if you see suspicious transactions or changes, get your banking institution involved right away.
I’m still waiting to hear the final result of the case. Having the protection of the bank has given me some peace of mind. I’m still amazed that they caught it all as it happened and stopped the transfer of money in time. I’m grateful that I have access to money in other places than just these accounts because if not, I’d be in a real mess. That’s a lesson and take away that I know is important and I want to pass that on to you. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket!
When the final details of my hacked bank account all fall into place I’ll report back on it to you. Just remember, it can happen to you so be prepared and ready. There are a lot of bad guys out there.
Have you or anyone you know ever been hacked? What have you done to insure that your information and your money aren't in danger?
Just an update: Finally, on November 4th my account was unfrozen and all my funds returned. Case closed.