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How to protect yourself from fraud

By Dean Brown

Dean Brown
Dean Brown. Photo courtesy Atlantic Union Bank.

With many of us still working from home and online schooling becoming the new norm (for now), online fraud and ID theft continue to thrive. The criminal activity of fraudsters and hackers has not let up during the pandemic, and it is actually worse with a whole new bucket of scams preying on our homebound online-all-the-time vulnerabilities. October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and is as good a time as ever to learn how to protect yourself and keep your personal information safe.

Keep Your Financial Accounts Secure

Coinciding with National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the American Bankers Association has launched its #BanksNeverAskThat campaign designed to bring awareness to phishing. Phishing is when a hacker attempts to trick you into revealing your account information or social security number through email or text. It is important to remember financial institutions would never ask you for personal information through email or text. Fraudsters may also pose as representatives from your bank and call you on the phone. If you have a reason to question the legitimacy of the caller, contact your financial institution on its main number.

Check Your Statements

Be sure to check your bank account and credit card statements monthly and check your account activity more frequently. Be on the lookout for fraudulent charges, no matter how insignificant they are. Even the smallest charge could be a fraudster’s activity using your stolen account information, as they are known to siphon funds in small, unnoticeable amounts from multiple personal accounts to prepare for a larger debit the next time. If you are not sure you made the purchase, contact your bank and ask what the charge is and where it came from.

Avoid Public Wi-Fi When Making Financial Transactions

Your personal information – such as account numbers and login info – may be compromised when making purchases or other financial transactions using free Wi-Fi in public places. It is best to use a known and secure network, like the one at your home or at work. A public network is less secure for a variety of reasons, including how it was set up, who configured it and what unknown users are connecting to it. Hackers can access poorly secured Wi-Fi routers and intercept data such as passwords and other personal information.

Beware of Fake Sellers and Bogus Deals

Look closely at retailer sites you have never heard of, watch for excessive pop-up ads and read their reviews. It is usually a better idea to do business with local and national companies you are familiar with when it comes to shopping online. A hacker may have created a fake website linked from the email that mimics a popular retailer’s website, but whose URL is off by a letter or two (e.g. and When you visit the mimicked site, you might be asked to update your personal account information to make a purchase. If you have any concerns or hesitations, shop elsewhere.

Use Contactless Debit Cards for In-Person Transactions

If you want to use your debit card, making in-store purchases is safer with contactless cards. Instead of using a card skimmer, you can look for the contactless symbol at checkout. Contactless debit cards – like the one offered by Atlantic Union Bank – offer secure transactions that are encrypted with a unique one-time code that protects your payment information. Contactless cards also offer a benefit of the “new normal” – avoiding unnecessary contact during purchasing interactions and transactions.

In most cases, identity theft and fraud can be prevented by keeping your guard up. Especially as we move closer to the holiday season, take the time to learn some of the methods hackers and fraudsters typically use. You can visit for more information on possible red flags, how to outsmart online scammers and more.

Dean Brown is the enterprise operations and chief information officer at Atlantic Union Bank. He boasts 30 years of experience with expertise in strategy and development planning, business and IT operations, application development, data warehousing, information security, risk management and project portfolio management.