We helped a client recently resolve a personal financial issue that involved online banking and credit cards. The story illustrates some of the dangers we face in our online world. We can’t run away or hide from those dangers.
Those of us with aging parents face a gut-wrenching dilemma. Without getting involved in anybody’s specific family dynamics, we want our elderly parents to remain independent (as much as they want to be independent), but we also know they are more vulnerable to scams because they tend to be more trusting. Their vulnerability becomes even greater as they use technology more.
This story started with a credit card issued by BP, the gasoline retailer, and money that started to disappear from our client’s mother’s account through Synchrony, a bank that has close ties to Amazon and is used to finance merchant accounts. Our client manages the finances for his mother, who is in her 90s and lives in an assisted living facility. A gasoline credit card was odd because his mom stopped driving four years ago. That raised one red flag. Synchrony raised another.
We surmised that someone that someone was able to hack his mother’s bank account and then created a way to use her info get the credit card and create the transfer portal. In all likelihood, they found a piece of junk mail with the credit card offer and used it to do their dirty work. No email was involved. The credit card had a balance of $1,500, even though he had no knowledge of the card being used. So, he made a $200 payment and saw the balance transferred to what looked like a debit card. He also changed the bank account, but the connection was still there.
When our client wondered if his mom’s account had been hacked – and if any others had – we told him to investigate. He changed the bank account again and told us he was worried that his other accounts at the bank might be affected. In addition to his mother’s account, he had a personal account and one for his business. All were online. Fortunately, the scammers never got there.
To protect the money for the three accounts, our client created a sweep account in his wife’s name for personal use. This enabled him to clean out the accounts he was worried about on a daily basis to keep it safe.
At the same time, he had to send letters to the banks involved to cancel the credit card and close all the bogus accounts and open new accounts. None of this activity tied his mother’s taxpayer ID number to any of the accounts. Had there been a connection, the scammers could have done much more damage.
But it all started with the low-hanging fruit – that credit card offer that anyone could send in. The same problem can come from those “checks” you get in the mail that are really loans. Anyone can use them, and it can hurt you if your name is on the “check.”
Our advice: Pay as much attention to physical pieces of mail as you do to email. Don’t throw those offers in the trash or recycling bin. Shred them or cut them into tiny pieces that can’t be reassembled. At the same time, keep your online presence secure and check your financial info regularly to spot anything that looks out of order.
We can help you with a security audit and we can explain the technology behind various security measure you can take. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up a consultation and implement a program.