Check who’s knocking at your door

Check who’s knocking at your door

Fraudsters are learning to exploit weak member authentication methods.

June 5, 2019

The online channel is a critical service tool for credit unions. The ability to provide convenient services anywhere and from any device is essential to a credit union’s member experience.  However, online access provides fraudsters with a key channel to target members and your credit union quickly and effectively. It is also one with growing obscurity that challenges credit unions’ ability to ensure they properly authenticate and verify members and potential members.

Data breaches have fueled new authentication challenges with the main goal of identity theft. While technology security continues to evolve, fraudsters continue to access Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, addresses, and birth dates from these breaches compounding the problem.

Stolen PII has significantly added to the number of identity theft-related fraud losses reported. Fraudsters continue to impersonate members to carry out fraudulent transactions. Here are some common examples to watch for:

  • New account fraud. Fraudsters who open accounts typically use stolen identities, make fraudulent deposits of checks or ACH debits, and withdraw the funds before the items are returned unpaid to the credit union. New account fraud generally occurs within the first 90 days after an account is opened.
  • Loan fraud. Fraudsters open fraudulent accounts and apply for loans including unsecured loans, credit cards, and vehicle loans. Typically, these transactions are carried out online and tend to be larger dollar amounts than losses seen with new account fraud.
  • Call center fraud. Fraudsters impersonate members and then request changes to current members’ contact information, like a phone number or email address. This provides access to other forms of fraud, like requesting wire transfers through the call center.
  • Account takeovers. Once a fraudster has accessed accounts online or changed contact information, they create opportunities to receive advances against a member’s line-of-credit, request wire transfers, or use bill pay to complete transactions.
  • Deposits over holiday weekends. Savvy fraudsters usually wait more than 30 days before making a fraudulent deposit after opening an account, or they will make small deposits and withdrawals during the first month to establish a pattern. Additionally, perpetrators may make deposits on a Friday or Saturday prior to a banking holiday that will give them a longer period to withdraw the funds before the deposited items are returned, especially when deposit holds aren’t used.
  • Targeting nonprofits. There is a growing trend to target nonprofit or charitable organizations that are included in a credit union’s field of membership. Fraudsters will join under a fictitious identity or contribute to the nonprofit organization in order to be eligible for membership. This action provides another way to side-step member authentication efforts at the credit union.

What can you do to minimize risks from these growing schemes? Here are a few tips for member service representatives and front-line credit union staff to help spot potential fraudulent attempts:

  • Ensure the name and Social Security number hasn’t been previously used to open other accounts recently.
  • Review photo identifications and Credit Privacy Numbers (CPNs) of members or potential members. These are easily counterfeited and frequently used to commit fraud.
  • Be alert for changes to a member’s contact information that occur immediately following an account being enrolled for online banking.
  • Scrutinize all loan and deposit documents for any irregularities, missing information, or new contact information.
  • Manually review membership applications submitted by individuals who live outside the credit union’s community or regular service area.

Member authentication will always be a challenge for credit unions as fraudsters learn to exploit weak authentication methods. The online channel will continue to be an important connection to your members, but it will run the risk of providing a cloak of anonymity to fraudsters. In the end, the best defense are your employees and ensuring front-line staff are alert and cautious when opening accounts, processing loan applications, and handling online transactions. Because we can all agree that we always want to know who is at the door.

CUNA Mutual Group’s Protection Resource Center allows policyholders to access online resources, including training modules, RISK Alerts, and loss control recommendations. For more information on how to manage risk, contact CUNA Mutual Group at