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Alert readers to growing cellphone fraud scams

January 14, 2019

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Niche source-finding services can match reporters with relevant professor, financial advisors and others (Image via Pexels user breakingic CC0 License)

With millions of U.S. consumers using digital devices to pay bills and shop online, clever crooks have figured out a new scam: Stealing personal data to open up phony cellphone accounts.

Fraudsters can then tap into—and empty out—a bank account or credit card in the victim’s name. Account takeovers have tripled, and online shopping fraud are now more prevalent than point-of-sale frauds, according to the most recent research from consulting firm Javelin.

Fewer consumer protections for cellphone fraud give business reporters a timely opportunity to step into the information gap and help readers protect themselves by knowing the steps to take:

Secure digital devices

Turning on two-factor authentication, putting screen locks on all devices, encrypting data, installing anti-malware, and avoiding public Wi-Fi and/or a Virtual Private Network (VPN) are the first steps to take, according to Javelin’s 2017 report. But what’s new and worth noting in 2018? Talk to one of the report’s authors (Al Pascual, Kyle Marcini, or Sarah Miller) and see if you can’t get a scoop in advance of February, when the company releases its latest findings.

Then do a little legwork. Head to your local mall or downtown and walk into the retail outlets of several cellphone providers. Interview staff on the tips they share with customers on securing their devices. And be sure to check the ultimate source: a few consumers on what they do—or don’t do, or didn’t know to do—to secure their devices.

Freeze Credit Reports

Some consumers may assume that a lock, which carries a hefty monthly charge, is just as good as a freeze. It’s not. A lock is a contract, but a freeze offers tighter protections guaranteed by law, says Christina Tetreault, a senior staff attorney at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. Since September 2018, federal law now requires the “Big Three” reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to allow consumers to freeze their credit reports for free.

Assemble a panel of readers and consumer experts to walk through the process of freezing credit reports, to get the conversation going. Some experts also rec­om­mend freezing your report with minor agencies, which may be used depending on your lender and your situation. Here’s a list from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201604_cfpb_list-of-consumer-reporting-companies.pdf

As a further step, consumers can freeze their credit report at the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange, used by most cellphone service providers to assess a new customer’s credit risk.

Become a Smarter Digital Shopper

Most cellphone service providers don’t require customers to set up a PIN, or personal identification number, but taking this simple step, and putting alerts on all financial accounts, and alerts or limits on online transactions, can greatly reduce the odds of fraudsters gaining access to an account. Others are more complicated. Talk to your news organization’s tech reporter, or team up with them to develop this story.

Visa is scheduled to roll out a new version of 3-D Secure in April, 2019, a technical standard created by Visa and MasterCard to secure transactions over the Internet https://usa.visa.com/visa-everywhere/security/future-of-digital-payment-security.html According to Gartner, Inc., in 2015 the six billion connected devices in operation that year were expected to more than triple by 2018 to 20 billion. Find out what the numbers are now, as we head into 2019.


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

    View all posts

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