Thieves are buying cell phones using stolen accounts

store display of 4 mobile phones

Here are some steps you can take to help protect against this new cell-phone-related scam.

Now there's one more reason to keep a careful eye on your cell phone account information, and it's a new form of account takeover fraud. Here's how the scam goes: an identity thief will use the victim's account information to buy expensive cell phones with a small, cash down payment. With the shiny new phones in hand, the thief will have them activated and charge the full price of the phones to the victim's account. This kind of crime is a variation on a type of fraud that has taken different forms throughout recent years: account takeover fraud.

What's account takeover fraud?

Account takeover fraud happens when an identity thief gets enough of your personal information to convince a place where you have an account (e.g., credit card company, membership association, retailer) to take an action on your behalf.

What makes account takeover fraud so dangerous is that victims may not find out about it right away. A successful account takeover fraudster could conceivably take an account over, switch account contact information, and start getting all your account-related emails, mail and other communication!

Fortunately, mobile phone takeover fraud may leave clues.

With the particular kind of crime that's been reported recently, the victim's phone shuts down when the thief activates their new (stolen) phone or phones. If your phone is somehow deactivated without your having done anything to cause it, that's a big red flag, and you should investigate further.

Here are two other precautions to consider:

  1. Set up a PIN or password for account changes. Ask your wireless provider about this option because it can be a good way to protect against this particular kind of fraud.
  2. Regularly review your wireless and credit card bills. This is something that's good to do anyway, but particularly with this kind of fraud, it could help you detect suspicious activity you need to resolve.

Bottom line: this particular cell-phone account-takeover scam is something to watch out for, but there will always be new scams. By staying alert and taking sensible precautions, though, you're doing what you can to protect yourself.

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