Shadow Fraud

The warnings have been around for several years. Protect your personal private information. So let’s say you do that to the best of your ability. You don’t click on any questionable email links, have strong passwords (or at least passwords), haven’t fallen for a telephone scam, or lost a credit card. Great job! Maybe you go further and don’t shop or bank online or just use cash at stores. Most of us don’t even go that far, but if you do, good for you. You should be totally safe then, right? Well, even with never shopping or banking online, the answer is, sadly, probably not.

Why? Because some of the largest breaches of private data have happened “behind the scenes” where most people don’t have access. It’s what I call “shadow fraud”. Data hacks of companies such as Target, Equifax, Anthem Blue, Cross Home Depot, Marriott and a multitude of others come to mind along with the OPM breach affecting millions of federal employees. These were all invasions into the internal data systems holding personal information. Not too many folks are probably even aware of all the companies and servers that process personal data. You might even think you’ve kept yourself “off the grid”. But if you have a credit card, government issued healthcare/identity card, bank account, or other personally identifiable number, you are not off the grid. And yes, that means your personal information can be exploited.

But don’t panic. Even if you cannot prevent all possible breaches, you can limit exposure and minimize damage by controlling what you can. This means abiding by the three “D’s”: deter, detect, and defend.


You can certainly help deter exposure by staying informed about the latest scams (and breaches), keeping passwords safe and strong (as possible), and limiting access to accounts. This also includes the well worn wisdom of still not clicking on email links, not listening to telemarketers, maintaining virus/malware protection and not getting involved in any “sounds too good to be true” get-rich-quick-scheme (no matter how tempting). Those are all things we can control.


But even with our pro-active preventative measures, there are still situations, such as shadow fraud, that are beyond us. This is why it is important to detect fraud as soon as possible by regularly reviewing financial statements (online and off), credit reports, and other similar paperwork. Subscribing to a monitoring service can also be helpful for detection if that is within your budget, but you can still do much yourself and should continue to check your accounts yourself, even if you have a monitoring service.

Fortunately, most credit card companies and banks have very active fraud departments now that actively monitor for any “unusual activity”. If you’ve ever had your credit card declined at a shop or restaurant because you didn’t alert your bank that you’d be traveling someplace unusual beforehand, you know what I mean! Though it can be annoying and a little embarrassing, it should also be comforting that someone noticed. Signing up for “unusual activity” alerts at your bank is also part of the new retail reality. These are all ways to stay as informed as possible so you can detect any fraud at the earliest possible moment.

Now with “shadow” fraud, your first indication might be a notification by the credit card company or bank. Or you might hear about some huge breach or hack on the news just about the same time your bank issues you a new credit card. If you do hear about it on the news and haven’t heard from your bank or credit card company, definitely contact them! In the end, no matter how you find out, you are now in defend mode.


How can you defend yourself? Well, with shadow fraud, the bank or credit card company will probably have already started the process by issuing you a new card and probably advising you to change certain passwords and check your credit report (depending on the breach). In other situations, it is up to us to take action after the initial shock and anger have worn off. Such action may include notifying the credit card companies, cancelling cards, changing passwords, checking credit reports and possibly placing alerts or freezes on new credit applications. Those are all things that can be done fairly quickly (even online) to limit exposure.


Twenty years ago, even less, if you had tried to report ID theft to your local police department, insurance company, bank or any major federal agency you might’ve been met with doubt, a brush-off and a very definite feeling of being alone. Yes, I know from personal experience! I remember calling the Social Security Administration to report the possible misuse of my social security number and and was literally told they didn’t care and there was no place to report the fraud. Oh have the times changed. Now, most federal government agencies, including the FTC, IRS and yes, even the Social Security Administration, have their own ID Theft/Fraud websites. Though it’s unfortunate that ID Fraud has become so “popular”, it is fortunate that the resources to combat and deal with it have greatly improved. You are NOT alone anymore!

The FTC’s Identity Theft Website

Lastly, I couldn’t sign off without plugging the mother of all federal agencies for consumer protection (ID Theft, scams and frauds): the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). I simply can’t recommend the FTC enough having worked with them and relied on them when I was with the FBI. The FTC’s Identity Theft website is a great starting point as it offers an immense amount of information on ID theft, scams, and schemes and what you can do to deter, detect, defend and report! And yes, you should report. The website will direct you to whom and how.

The Identity Theft website also has links for other sites both within the FTC as well as other agencies, federal and state. There is also information for how to obtain your free credit report. You can then “shop” to order pamphlets, booklets and other materials on a wide variety of subjects for yourself or to hand out to others. Best part? Those informational materials are free and will be shipped free to you. I handed out these FTC materials whenever I spoke to groups about ID theft, fraud, and other white collar collar crime. You can even sign up for FTC email alerts on the latest consumer info including the trending scams. I do post some of the alerts on the website and my FB Page, but not all, so please check them out!

So remember, deter, detect, defend to limit exposure and minimize damage. If you get hit, fight back and remember, you are not alone, there is help out there.

Good luck!


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