Scam Warning- Criminals using stolen account info to pay their bills

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A new scam has experts cautioning small-business owners, nonprofits and others to pay careful attention to their checking accounts, because criminals could be using those accounts to pay their own bills.

American Indian Services is a small nonprofit that offers food and other assistance to Native Americans in the Lincoln Park area. While reviewing bank statements, the nonprofit’s executive director, Fay Givens, spotted some unauthorized activity. An electronic payment of $449 had posted on May 22. Two more payments, one for $415.03 and another for $1,407.13,  posted on May 23. All of the payments went to DTE Energy, and none of the payments were were set up to be automatically paid by anyone at American Indian Services, USA Today reported.

“When this shows up, you know it’s fraud,” Givens said. She warns others,”Be very, very vigilant.”

According to chief fraud strategist Frank McKenna, “These types of scams — like paying utility bills — are just going to grow.” His company,  PointPredictive, consults with banks, lenders and finance companies. McKenna says technology makes things easier for scammers. “The faster they can get their money, the faster they can get out and be anonymous,” he said. A key to protecting financial data is diligence, according to experts. They say to scrutinize statements and to be aware of how phishing scams work.

Also, be careful with checks. Givens thinks someone obtained the routing and account numbers for the nonprofit’s bank account, possibly obtaining the sensitive information from checks used to pay other bills. She speculates that after the first transaction worked, the account numbers were given to others to pay their bills the next day.

“If it worked for someone, they might have given it to a friend or brother or sister,” Givens said.

After catching the discrepancies in the account, Givens contacted the bank to file affidavits stating that the payments were unauthorized. The nonprofit did not lose the money, but the incident created extra work and the account had to be closed.

Givens warns, “If you’re not vigilant on these things, all of a sudden you’re paying for someone’s bills for months on end. It’s just a real scam.”

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