FAIRMONT - It doesn't seem to matter how much more sophisticated technology and security becomes, the criminals are always one step ahead.
"We used to say fraud prevention, but we realize that we have no control over the creepy guy on his computer in the basement," said Andrea Hodges, a representative from U.S. Bank in Mankato who gave a fraud prevention seminar in Fairmont on Monday. "Our fraud definition is very loose; we can't lay out a list and say, 'This is what qualifies as fraud,' because we're always on the reactive side. Something different always comes along."
Hodges stated that cyber thieves and criminals are so advanced that even the experts can be fooled.
"One of our bank workers was affected by the Target breach," Hodges said, referring to the nationwide data security breech at Target stores that resulted in millions of customers nationwide having their credit and debit card information compromised. "About three weeks ago, she got a call that she thought was from AT&T. Her caller ID said it was AT&T, and they wanted her to verify her information. Because she thought the number they were calling from was legitimate, she gave it to them."
However, there is software out there that can show any number on a caller ID.
"Never give out any information unless you initiated the call," Hodges said.
The Target breach, along with the localized incident at El Agave restaurant in Fairmont last month, was the result of malware.
"Every little piece of information is an opportunity for criminals," Hodges said. "Even if it's something we think there's nothing anyone could do anything with, they will try to find a way to make it work for them. They are always ahead of us."
Breaches such as the ones that hit Target and El Agave aren't always about getting access to credit and debit card information.
"That's just the icing on the cake," Hodges said. "What they want is the information."
Hodges said that U.S. Bank nationwide lost $4 million in the Target breach, but it cost $7 million to replace all the compromised cards.
Chris Pierce, president of the U.S. Bank in Fairmont, admitted the El Agave breach hurt the local banks.
"It was our local banks that had to cover the losses," he said. "This was a big local loss for everyone."
One person in the audience who stated his card was one of the many compromised during the El Agave breach reported he was now getting many robo-calls for different things.
"And I'm on the 'do not call' list," he said.
For those affected who lost money, they do have rights, Hodges said.
"If a check clears, and it's fraudulent, you have up to a year to dispute it," Hodges said. "Keep tabs on the payees; make sure whoever cashed that check was the person or company who was supposed to get it. For debit or electronic transactions, they have 60 days from the statement cut to notify the bank of any unauthorized activity. You need to notify the bank in writing, and you can get some provisional credit. The bank will investigate and let you know of its findings within 45 days."
Detective Eric Tonder of the Fairmont Police Department also had tips for individuals to protect themselves from being the victim of fraud.
"Most of it is being vigilant," he said. "Half of the ones we see are just people being careless. Simply not leaving your wallet or purse in your vehicle, unlocked."
The same can be said for online activity. Cyber criminals will often "phish" for victims using mass e-mails, pop-up messages or links on social media pages. Along with having up-to-date virus and anti-spy software on computers, beware of suspicious attachments and links. Crooks can use e-mail and other credentials stolen from company websites or individuals to make it look like it is from a trusted source. The links could take them to a page that looks legitimate, but is a set-up to harvest your information.
There is no full-proof system when dealing with finances in the technology world, but a few steps can help keep any damage to a minimum.
"Try to have a separate credit card for online shopping only," Hodges said. "Monitor your bank accounts online, so if anything goes through it's more likely to be caught. You can also get three free credit reports a year to monitor your credit."
Other options include discussing and learning options that are offered by your banks and credit card companies to help detect or prevent out-of-pattern activity. More information is available at www.thelanzagroup.com