In this episode of Friends Talk Financial Planning, Bridget shares her personal experience with her checking account being hacked and provides valuable insights on how to prevent it from happening to others.
Bridget: I was hacked. In this episode of Friends Talk Financial Planning, we'll talk about what happened to me and how you can prevent it from happening to you. Hi, I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel, and I've got a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois.
John: And I'm John Scherer. I have a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin. And before we dig into how you can avoid going through what Bridget went through, I want to remind everybody to hit that subscribe button. When you subscribe, it helps other people on YouTube find this content and helps us with the algorithms. And with that, Bridget, I know you mentioned that you had this hacking issue going on. I'm really interested to hear what exactly happened, what you did about it, and most importantly, how we can help people avoid going through the same things. What's the deal?
Bridget: Well, first of all, I want to mention that for bank accounts right now hacking is evidently on the increase. Credit cards have adopted those chips, which evidently are harder to hack and defraud people with. So credit card protections have gotten better and the credit card companies have gotten better at catching it. So the thieves have moved on to banks, and so this is hitting banks particularly hard. So I just want to make sure that people understand that, of course, being careful with your credit card is awesome, but we're going to be focused on what you can do to protect yourself with your bank.
John: Yeah. Great.
Bridget: So here's what happened to me. First of all, the whole way they got my information was very old-fashioned. It was not tech. I don't think it was that difficult, and I don't know for sure, so there's going to be some speculation, but I won't name any names, so hopefully nobody will come back at me. So I had to drop off a check at a professional's office. The professional was not there. Actually, it was a series of two checks. They told me to put the first check through the slot in the door, so I put my check through the slot in the door in an envelope.
Second check, there was somebody there who was another professional. And so, I said, “I'm dropping this off for so and so.” And they said, “Fine,” and I replied, “You know what? I just want to make sure that I did the check right.” And so, I opened the envelope and I checked to see how I had made out the check. And she said, “Yeah,” took the check, and put it in the back kind of on a pile of stuff, and there was a lot of stuff around. Now, maybe it wasn't all this, but fast forward a week or two later. I happen to be very mindful right now about checking my bank account, and the amount was over $6,900, and all the person did was copy the check.
They used the next check number, and they made it out to somebody else. They put in the amount, and they totally forged my signature, but it didn't look that bad. I then got a call that was just kind of weird. I think we're all getting a lot of calls that are scams now. Usually, I try to not answer them and just let it go to my voicemail, but I picked this one up, and the person said that she was from Capital One, and they wanted to verify a check. And I do actually do some work with Capital One, but I don't have a checking account there, so I said, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
And she started asking me questions, so I replied, “Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you calling me? How did you get my number? I don't know what you're talking about. I'm done.” And I hung up on the person. Before I hung up, however, I asked her, and honestly, this was an astute question, “Can I call you back?” Capital One must have a phone number. Okay, so that was over, and I still to this day, don't know if that was legit or not, but the fraudsters did deposit it into Capital One. Now with Capital One, you can deposit a check on your phone, and I don't know what their limits are, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were $7,000.
As soon clicked on my bank account and saw somebody that I didn't recognize at all, I immediately called my bank. The next day, I looked at my checking account, and the fraudsters were trying to pay their Comcast bill with the account number. I don't even have a Comcast account, so that was easy to shut down. And then the bank immediately stopped payments on these items. The Comcast they could take out right away because I immediately asked, “What's this?” So they didn't pay it right away. The other one they had kind of honored, they put it in sort of temporary honor system, and so that was a whole other thing.
But then somebody at the bank was calling me every day, and we were talking to see if everything was okay. And I work with a local bank, so that'll be another interesting thing for us to talk about: the local banks versus a big national bank. Personal contact is one of the reasons why I work with a local bank, because I want actual bankers, and I feel like a lot of the big national banks, you have to call their 800 number and hope for the best.
And so, I want somebody who I can call. My grandfather was a banker, and I honor the profession of banking. I think it’s a good profession. So I like working with bankers. So that was another aspect of it. It took about 30 days for me to get refunded for the money that was taken out of my account. And the banker that I talked to said people usually have 60 days to report fraud. So once you ask me your questions, we'll get into a little bit of how to avoid this.
John: Ultimately, you didn't lose any money, right?
John: Okay. And one of the things, as you mentioned before—credit cards. There's protection with the chips and with other things, and with things like debit cards and bank accounts, that's not always the case.
Bridget: Right. With debit cards, I think you have to catch it a lot faster. So I think you want to make sure that you tell them within 30 to 60 days. But it's not like a credit card where they have to say, “Oh, okay, we'll assume that this is all going to go through.” They can wait. What I looked up is that there's no definite time frame for them to have to refund you the money.
John: Yeah, interesting. You said this right at the beginning, but I just wanted to circle back on that this wasn't some high-tech endeavor. This was probably a physical check that, in this case, got into the wrong hands. I know that we've seen a lot of occasions of check washing, they call it, where they can get the regular ballpoint ink pen off of a check and then write different things in that.
Bridget: Well, with Photoshop these days, it wouldn't be hard.
John: But oftentimes it seems so much more reliable to physically deliver a check. You walk in, and you hand it to somebody. Golly, you feel good about that. And that's not always the safest place. I think that's a really important point to bring out here. Can you talk a little bit about how to avoid this? How do I avoid this? And for the viewers, what steps do you take so you don't have to go through this?
Bridget: Well, I would have made sure the envelope was sealed, the second envelope. That's the biggest thing on my side that I would say I'd do differently. So it could be anybody that walked into this office because the office didn't seem super secure to me.
Bridget: And the other thing is that though I couldn't pay with a credit card in this case, I would urge people to use their credit cards. You have a lot more protection, and that is a reason to use credit cards, instead of debit cards or Zelle and Venmo. Those are actually even worse protections than your debit card. So be mindful of that. You're putting yourself more at risk when you use those different forms of payment. The other thing I think that I did right was look at my bank account. And so, one of the reasons why I wanted to do this episode is because people need to really be looking at the bank account sometimes.
A lot of people don't do this. I have to admit I'm not always the best at it, but I kind of eyeball it. And again, $6,900 I would notice, and Comcast I would notice, but I would say at least for the next year or two, I would urge people to be more careful about looking at their bank statements than they have been in the past. You've been looking at your credit card statement and asking, “Does this really look right?” Reconciling your bank statement is also very important. I don't know what percentage of Americans reconcile the bank statements, but if you do, you would find any discrepancies.
John: I'm glad you didn't ask me if I do that on a monthly basis. We'll skip over that and just take your advice and moving forward, be smart about that because I think a lot of people don't. And I know that I'm not as good at that as I should be. And here's something that's really a high-risk thing and an easily identifiable thing. It doesn't take very long to go through your monthly checking account statement. And it's one of those simple things that's easy to slip by. And if you hadn't been paying attention to this, you might be past the 60 days.
Again, with bigger numbers, it can be a little bit different thing, but you can have some of these frauds on a lower level and be out hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars over a period of time without really paying attention if you're not on top of it. So I think that's a really great idea. Tell me, go into depth a little bit, if you would, about having a local bank versus a national bank. And I think I know where you're coming from, but what was the difference and what was the benefit for you of that?
Bridget: For me, the benefit was that I had somebody personal that I could call and tell them about it, and then they could communicate with other people. I do business with big banks, too, like my mortgage is with a big bank but I felt like I wouldn't have that person to call at all times. And there have been other things. My banking needs are higher right now, and so I'm just really glad that I have people to call right now. This is why I have a local bank.
And I'm not trying to say that big banks are bad. My joke is that they think that 99% of transactions can be handled by a teller, and so all they have is tellers, and they have nobody for more complex needs. I don't want to cast dispersion on tellers, but a teller can't help me with this except to go to somebody else. So I feel like it’s hard to talk with people higher up, while at a local bank, I felt this was great.
The other thing I think about local banks—and this gets into a whole different ball of wax—is that their marketing and their focus is on developing the local community, whereas bigger banks, not that none of them ever focus on the local community, but they tend to focus on the bigger companies and the bigger players. If you are lucky enough to get more money, you'll get more offers from all these other banks that are doing all this. I like banks that are focused on the local community, and that's another reason I like a local bank.
John: Well, Bridget, thanks so much for sharing your personal story. Glad it had a good ending for you. And those are great takeaways for our viewers. Pay attention to those bank accounts even more than you have before and consider having a local bank, somebody you can talk to, who can act as an advocate for you if you're unfortunate enough to be in that same spot. It's a great place to wrap things up here.
Bridget: One more thing I want to say, John. I found AARP to be a great resource in this regard.
John: Awesome. I would not have considered that. Great plug for AARP to help you out with things. I'm John Scherer. I run a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin.
Bridget: And I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel. I've got a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois. John and I are both taking new clients. However, if you're interested in a local advisor in your area, we belong to the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, or ACP. It's a group of tax-focused financial planners that work as fiduciaries in a comprehensive manner all over the country. So you can check out acplanners.org.
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