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Identifying financial fraud during the holiday season

Jan 06, 2012 Karen Umpierre

Identity theft and fraudulent credit card use during 2010 was rampant, and 2011 hasn't seen a significant decline in cases. In order for a financial institution to assure they are dealing with legitimate customers, they must maintain vigilant background screening processes and investigate unordinary account activity. Although consumers are encouraged to check their bank and credit card statements consistently, a financial institution can do itself a favor by overseeing accounts for suspicious activity and notifying the client. Such practices will give the client more reason to gain trust in the agency and reduce the risk of further fraud. Spotting identity theft isn't always easy, but some cases are just too obvious. For instance, if a consumer has an average monthly spending of $1,200 over the past year, and then out of nowhere their monthly bill reads $4,500, this may be a sign that a criminal has assumed the identity of the client and fraudulently charged products and services on their credit card. Suspicious fiscal activity may be difficult to determine during the holiday season, as consumers spend more money on retail during November and December than any other month. According to ComScore, November 28, 2011, known as Cyber Monday, was the highest online spending day of the year with $1.25 billion spent by U.S. consumers. Many Americans are spending more than normal this holiday season, and a smart fraudster may take advantage of this and overspend on a victim's account, assuming that a financial institution would interpret the unordinary spending as a consequence of the expected holiday shopping period. A detailed investigation should be made for cards that were used excessively. One way a financial institution could spot fraud is by noting the average spending of their clients relative to the rest of the year. For example, if clients on average spend 20 percent more during this holiday season versus the rest of the year, any account that exceeds that percentage may have been victimized by an identity thief. In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Data Breach Notification Bill. This mandates all agencies in possession of consumer data to inform the public in the event that confidential information has been breached. "Senate Bill 24 is the logical next step to ensure consumers have the specific information they need to protect themselves after a data breach," Senator Joe Simitian said in a statement. "No one likes to get the news that personal information about them has been stolen but, when it happens, people deserve to get the information they need to decide what to do next." Although it might be bad press to publicly announce your database has been breached, notifying clients of the issue is better than having them find out through an investigation.