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My Experience with Identity Theft

Sorry I haven't written too much this month. A very interesting thing happened which consumed much of my attention.

So July 5th, I check my Chase savings account. Turns out somebody took $7,800 out of my Chase savings account with four transactions. That's a goodly amount of money. The more interesting thing was that it was a straight ACH transaction, with no authorization on my part necessary. It bypassed my username, password, and SMS 2FA authorization. Because I do not give out my savings account numbers, I did not bother to set up alerts from when savings are transferred from and to my savings account, which meant that I did not know about these fraudulent transactions for about two days.

I was not happy.

So I called Chase customer support, and they were able to put a restriction on my savings account. Then I called Chase fraud prevention and they were able to freeze my savings account.

Then the guy started making unauthorized ACH debit pings (those sub-dollar transactions to make sure that your bank account number is a valid one) against my checking account. So not only is my savings account compromised, so is my checking account. And the guy was using the exact same organization ID to make those ACH transactions.

So I call Chase Fraud Prevention and had this conversation:

Me: Hey, so this fraudster is making ACH trial debits and credits against my checking account. He is literally taking money out of my account as we speak. You could catch this guy right now.

Chase Fraud Support: We're not going to do that, but rest assured that your money is safe with us.

Me: …alternatively, could you block the organization ID making these ACH trial debits and credits? He's using the exact same one.

Chase Fraud Support: We can't block organization IDs, we don't even know at this point whether you authorized these transactions.

Me: …is there anything I can do to protect myself? I already submitted credit freezes, an FTC complaint, and requested credit reports in the event my personal information has been compromised and linked with these bank account numbers.

Chase Fraud Support: We don't handle that, that's up to you.

Time to change banks. Honestly, it's not Chase's fault. It's a big bank, fraud happens all the time, and I'm sure the people on the other end deal with frazzled people like me constantly after going. That being said, this was a really big time sink and I don't want to do this again, and just getting my money back with no guarantee that this wouldn't happen again is not acceptable. It also would be helpful if Chase had physical branches for identity validation, or let me know about that glitch that exposed customer account numbers.

Now I use a different bank, one where I have a physical security key to log into my online account, and one that has branches in my location. It also hosts wealthier people and is more discreet. I'm happy with it.

In addition to this, I've also been getting these constant robocalls, and my uncertainty as to whether my email and other accounts have been compromised led to me changing all my private contact information. The migration, which I started about 2 weeks ago, took at least 4 full days, is still ongoing. I've also found that I'm less in control of emotions than I thought, which was almost more disappointing than the theft. You'd think that a guy who's been robbed four times would be less and less angry about it, and it might be the case, but I still need to work on regulating my emotions more effectively.

So what changes for me going forward?

  1. Every financial account that I have going forward I ask for multi-factor authentication with HMAC or U2F. So SMS 2FA if I can help it.

  2. All core email accounts are hidden away from the world, and exposed only through a few secondary “burner” email addresses that forward mail through POP. That way I can change emails relatively quickly. It's not great, but it's better than one public email.

  3. I'm considering use of 1Password or another cross-platform password manager (I used to rely on KeyChain for macOS, until I wasn't on macOS anymore), but source of truth for passwords will be paper and pencil.

  4. The best form of protection is vigilance. So I added a “habit” onto my habit application to check my financial accounts every day without fail.

There's likely a number of steps that I can do in addition to protect myself and I will be very interested in such solutions going forward. I just really hope that I don't have to do this again.