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Rip-Off Alert: Account takeover fraud easy to pull, difficult to detect

An account takeover fraud is one of the most basic forms of identity theft. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to pull off. (KSNV)

An account takeover fraud is one of the most basic forms of identity theft. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to pull off.

Account takeover fraud happens when the thief steals personal information to take control of existing bank or credit card accounts and opens new accounts. The con men just need to have the right information.

New York officials recently shut down an identity theft ring. Investigators found piles of credit cards and bank statements after getting a search warrant for the home of Seerdjinie Mohan. The scheme ripped off hundreds of people.

“They were stealing personal identifiers, Social Security numbers of individuals,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Glen McKechnie, “And then they would change the address or they would open up credit card applications and/or bank accounts. They would open up, or she would open up, and have that mail diverted to a new location that she controlled.”

Investigators say the group obtained much of the personal information by simply trolling the internet.

“We use our IDs, when we think about it, on a daily basis for so many things in person, online,” said Connie Gentile of the New York district attorney’s office. “If someone who has ill intent wants to have access to them, it's very easy.”

The group also filed false tax returns with the information.

"So many of them did not even realize until they went to file their taxes and were told, ‘Wait, you already received a refund’ that they had been victimized," Gentile said.

There were 200 victims and more than $120,000 in losses attributed to this ID theft ring.

Mohan “was using it to basically her lavish lifestyle,” Gentile said. “She leased a newer BMW; she used her money to do gambling in Atlantic City."

How do you protect yourself? Experts say time is of the essence.

"If a person can be victimized without even knowing about it, it allows the criminal to do more and more of it because it goes undetected for such a long period of time,” McKechnie said.

Important steps to protect yourself include:

  • Going through your bank statements with a fine-tooth comb.
  • Making sure that any charges on credit card statements are, in fact, your charges.
  • Receive a free credit report once a year is a great idea.

Mohan pleaded guilty to fraud and grand larceny charges and is awaiting sentencing.

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